Prehistoric moth found in Italian Alps

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The moth was found in northern Italy's Lombardy region. Photo: Tiroler Landesmuseen/Norbert Poell
15:18 CET+01:00
Austrian scientists have identified a previously unknown species of moth living almost 2000 metres above sea level in the Italian Alps, which they believe has not changed in its appearance for 130 million years.

Scientists believe that the brightly-coloured species has survived for so long because of the remote mountaintop location where it still continues to exist.

The Pizzo Arera mountain of the Bergamasque Prealps in northern Italy's Lombardy region, which lies on southern-exposed slopes of limestone, is well known for a high number of unique plants and animals found nowhere else because of its geography and unusual climate.

They believe this might be the only place where the moth still exists because the unusual conditions mean that despite the high altitude, very little snow and ice ever settles, allowing the tiny moth to survive in a self-contained mini ecosystem.

Peter Huemer, the museum's expert on natural history who headed the expedition, called the new discovery "a sensation".

"It is in an area on the edge of the Alps that has never experienced glaciation, and as a result has many unique species of plants and animals."

The prehistoric moth, which is just four millimetres long, has been named by the experts from the Tyrolean State Museum as the Micropterix gaudiella and belongs to a family of prehistoric moths that make up the most ancient species of butterflies in the world.

Although new species of plants and animals are discovered every year, many of these are on a microscopic level and the discovery of a completely new insect is much rarer.

They chose the name from the Latin gaudium, meaning to have fun and enjoy something, because they were so delighted at having discovered the new species.

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The moth has spectacular bronze-coloured wings with purple patterns running across the metallic colour. It eats pollen, particularly favouring roses, and only flies during sunlight.

The Tyrolean State Museum has a world-famous collection of butterflies and moths which includes 8,000 different species and more than 1,000,000 individual specimens.

Story courtesy of Central European News

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