The moths (Lepidoptera: Heterocera) of northern Maharashtra: a preliminary checklist
Sachin A. Gurule 1 & Santosh M. Nikam 2
1,2 Maratha Vidya Prasarak Samaj’s, Post Graduate Department of Zoology, K.T.H.M. College, Gangapur Road, Nashik, Maharashtra 422002, India
1 email@example.com (corresponding author), 2 firstname.lastname@example.org
The northern region of Maharashtra State, India, includes Nashik, Dhule, Jalgaon and Nandurbar districts. This area is bounded in the north-west by the Dang forest, Gujarat, in the north by Madhya Pradesh, by Marathwada region to the east, by Ahmadnagar District to the south, and towards the south-west by Thane District. The area is located between 18033’–21061’N & 73016’–76028’E, and covers an area of 40,346km2 (Fig. 1).
Northern Maharashtra has a tropical climate, specifically a tropical wet and dry climate in the Koppen climate classification (McKnight & Hess 1884), with a seven-month dry season and a peak of rains in July, receiving rain from both the northeast and southwest monsoons. The temperature is moderately stable, ranging between 200C and 420C. The cold season from December to February is followed by the summer season from March to June; June to about the end of September constitutes the south-west monsoon season; and October and November form the post-monsoon season (Greater Bombay District Gazetteer 1960). The forest types found in the area are classified as tropical moist deciduous forest, sub-tropical hill forest and tropical dry deciduous forest (District Gazetteer Nasik District 2010).
Due to the high altitude and favorable conditions, northern Maharashtra has an abundant and diverse flora and fauna. The region has a wide variety of insects, a major component of which is the order Lepidoptera, but scientific documentation of the moth fauna is very much lacking. Insects comprise about 90% of tropical forest biomass (Fatimah & Catherine 2002), but in northern Maharashtra there is little data on the Lepidoptera due to a lack of researchers, who only prefer to work on less diverse taxa. Another problem in assessing insect diversity lies in the deficiency of knowledge of the systematics of the insect fauna of this region, which is due in part to lower conservation efforts towards invertebrates compared to those accorded to large vertebrates and plants (Mahajan 2004). Although 789 species of moths have been recorded from Maharashtra State, from Pune, Satara, Mumbai and Khandala (Cotes & Swinhoe 1887–89), there are no records of the moths found in Nashik, Dhule, Jalgaon & Nandurbar districts.
Megadiverse groups like the insects form a major component of the biodiversity of any area and thus scientific surveying and documentation of this fauna is indispensable to any scientific study and conservation programme. It is not possible to assess the value of a site for conservation without such data (Kendrick 2002). Being a megadiverse taxon with enormous species richness in the tropics, the evaluation of the total species richness of all insects would be extremely laborious and time consuming. Therefore, indicator groups, such as moths, are frequently selected as the subject of study. Such a taxon is often selected because it is taxonomically well-known and thus species are relatively rapid to identify (Holloway 1985).
Collection and Identification
The collection of moth specimens were done from Nashik, Dhule, Jalgaon and Nandurbar district of northern Maharashtra during June 2009 to June 2010. The five sites (Table 1) from each district selected for collection. In the present study data was collected from 67 trap nights within the selected sites for about 5hr trapping each night.
The collection of nocturnal moths was undertaken with light traps at a light sheet (Fig. 2 a,b), using either a Philips HQL 125W mercury vapour bulb, Wipro smartlite 20W compact fluorescent lamp or a GE Edison 15W 240V Quad. Several traps had been devised for capturing moths, such as the Rothamsted trap, Heath trap and Robinson trap (Fry & Waring 1996); for this study a light trap (Fig. 2a) was designed based on principles of standard traps. As widely recognized by lepidopterists, many trap designs are not particularly suitable for use in tropical conditions, primarily because they are too small to cope with the enormous catches that are so frequently encountered (Barlow 1982). To overcome these difficulties, most moths were recorded at a light sheet. A white 10’x6’ cloth sheet was hung between two vertical poles and the light source placed in such way that the whole sheet was brightly illuminated. Moths were collected from both forest and residential parts of the study area.
The moth specimens collected were pinned and labeled in the field. Later, they were further prepared (relaxed, set), sorted to family level and then identified to species in the laboratory.
As noted by many lepidopterists, relaxing, setting and labeling of specimens are both laborious and time consuming procedures (Fatimah & Catherine 2002). Thus, in the present study, species abundance data was recorded in the field and most moths released, with only a small sample collected and prepared as voucher materials which are deposited in the Departmental Insect Reference Museum of KTHM College, Nashik, which is affiliated to Pune University. Cocoons of moths of family Bombycidae were collected from sericulture farms in which Bombyx mori are domesticated for the production of mulberry raw silk. Identification of the moths was carried out with the help of identification keys, standard reference books, and available literature. Species whose identities could not be ascertained from external morphology were studied by dissecting the genitalia with the stereoscopic binocular microscope using standard methods. Species not assigned to species level were given a morphospecies label, pending further investigation, and are held at Zoology Research centre, K.T.H.M. College affiliated to Pune University. . They are listed in the checklist as [genus] sp. The classification used mainly follows Holloway (1983, 1985, 1986, 1987b, 1988, 1989, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999); Kristensen 1999 but also incorporating recent changes in superfamily Noctuoidea (Lafontaine & Schmidt 2010; van Nieukirken et al. 2011; Zahiri et al. 2010, 2011; Dubatolov & de Vos 2010). Species are listed alphabetically within family and subfamily (Table 2).
A total of 728 moth specimens were collected, which were classified into 245 species (of the 789 species previously recorded from Maharashtra) and placed in 177 genera, and 20 families; the remaining specimens were deposited in Departmental Insect Reference Museum of KTHM College, Nashik, affiliated to Pune University pending further investigation. A preliminary checklist of the moth fauna of northern Maharashtra is presented in Table 2 (Images 1–245 all photographs taken by Sachin A. Gurule).
A larger number of Macrolepidoptera were recorded than Microlepidoptera due to greater efforts taken to record these moths using light sheet and light trap methods rather than other methods, and also due to the difficulty with identification of Microlepidoptera; many of the specimens are thus pending further investigation. The Microlepidoptera superfamilies Tineoidea, Tortricoidea, Cossoidea, Zygaenoidea, Thyridoidea and Hyblaeoidea were represented by the families Tineidae, Tortricidae, Cossidae, Limacodidae, Thyrididae and Hyblaeidae respectively. The superfamily Pyraloidea is represented by two families Pyralidae and Crambidae. In the present survey, only one species each was recorded from the families Tineidae, Tortricidae, Cossidae and Thyrididae; whereas the families Limacodidae and Hyblaeidae were represented by three and two species respectively. Crambidae are the dominant microlepidopteran family represented by 26 species and Hypsopygia mauritialis is the only representative of the family Pyralidae. The superfamily Lasiocampoidea, which includes only the family Lasiocampidae, is represented by four species. Moths of this family are susceptible to fungi and are also attacked by tachinid flies (Chandra 2007). The superfamily Bombycoidea is represented by four families Eupterotidae (three species), Bombycidae (four species), Saturniidae (three species) and Sphingidae (24 species). Family Eupterotidae is represented by the beautifully coloured Eupterote fabia, Eupterote lineosa and Eupterote mollifera discrepans. Moths of family Saturniidae often fly late at night, with an irregular flight and are readily attracted towards light. Three species, Actias selene, Antheraea mylitta and Attacus taprobanis were recorded from Nashik and Jalgaon districts. The superfamily Geometroidea is represented by two families, Uraniidae (two species) and Geometridae (25 species). The family Uraniidae is represented by Micronia aculeata and Phazaca theclata. Some species from Geometridae are diurnal and so would have been missed.
The superfamily Noctuoidea is represented by five families; Notodontidae (three species), Erebidae (101 species), Euteliidae (four species), Nolidae (seven species) and Noctuidae (29 species). Recent changes in the classification of this superfamily have resulted in the inclusion of the previous families Arctiidae and Lymantriidae as subfamilies of Erebidae, i.e., as Arctiinae and Lymantriinae (Lafontaine & Schmidt 2010; van Nieukirken et al. 2011; Zahiri et al. 2010, 2011). The moths of subfamily Arctiinae are well represented by brightly coloured tiger and footman moths and moths of the subfamily Lymantriinae are known as tussock moths. Erebidae is thus now the largest of all moth families. Subfamily Erebinae is the largest and includes the tribe Catocalinae (Lafontaine & Schmidt 2010) representing owlet and underwing moths. Family Notodontidae is represented by only three species, Phalera cossoides, Phalera grotei and Paracerura priapus and thus is rare in occurrence.
Cotes & Swinhoe (1887–89) and Hampson (1892–1896) listed 4553 and 5277 moth species respectively from India; of which they have reported 789 and 611 moth species principally from western Maharashtra. Mathew et al. (2004) catalogued 202 species of Lepidoptera from Shendurny Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, of which 73 were butterflies and 129 were moths from nine families, with Noctuidae (including Erebidae) and Pyralidae the dominant families. Chandra (2007) studied the moth diversity of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and recorded 142 species from 90 genera in 16 families, with families Noctuidae (including Erebidae) and Crambidae dominant in that area. Ghosh (2003) studied the geometrid moths of Sikkim and reported 525 species, and cited a total of 460 and 260 species of Geometridae from Meghalaya and West Bengal respectively. Gurule et al. (2010) catalogued 70 species of moths from the family Noctuidae (including Erebidae) in Nashik District of Maharashtra. Sidhu et al. (2010) documented 109 microlepidopteran species in the online version of the Zoological Survey of India. Finally, Rose & Pooni (2004, 2005) recorded 18 species belonging to the superfamily Pterophoroidea and 16 species belonging to the superfamily Tortricoidea from the north-western part of India. The above figures indicate that the moth fauna of northern Maharashtra is highly diverse compared to Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, despite the fact that the area shows low geometrid species as compared to Meghalaya and West Bengal.
In the present survey, family Erebidae includes most of the species (101), followed by the families Noctuidae (29), Crambidae (26), Geometridae (25) and Sphingidae (24); the noctuid to geometrid ratio found in the survey is 5:1. The surveyed area has a higher proportion of plants from the families Cupressaceae, Menispermaceae, Fabaceae, Malvaceae, Solanaceae, Convolvulaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Mimosaceae, Ebenaceae, Sapotaceae, Sapindaceae, Brassicaceae, Asteraceae, Poaceae, Linaceae and Amaranthaceae, which may serve as indicator taxa for noctuid moths, with lower proportions of plants from families Myrtaceae, Rutaceae, Rhizophoraceae, Periplocaceae, Combretaceae, Thymeliaceae, Fagaceae and Santalaceae indicating a rich geometrid fauna (Kitching et al. 2000). The ratio obtained in the present study suggests the moth assemblages recorded are typical of human-disturbed forest of wild and orchid plants with relatively low geometrid component and moderate agriculture and open habitats.
The moth fauna of northern Maharashtra is highly diverse but after evaluation of the collection data of the 245 species recorded and identified, it was also observed that due to topographical changes and loss of natural habitats (Mahajan 2004), the populations of many species have declined. As noted above, light trap designs are not particularly suitable for use in tropical conditions, because they are generally too small to cope with the enormous catches that were frequently encountered (Barlow 1982). So samples obtained from the light sheet proved to be extremely valuable for the production of a preliminary checklist of the moth fauna of northern Maharashtra. However, the sampling period is really insufficient to estimate species richness, being relatively short. A more exhaustive survey of all regions is required with other sampling methods, including crepuscular netting, baiting, larval searching, diurnal nectaring and malaise trapping, and this is sure to yield new records for this area.
The results of this survey indicate that the moth fauna of northern Maharashtra is characterized by larger proportions of Erebidae, Noctuidae, Crambidae, Geometridae and Sphingidae, which are also among the most diverse families of moths in this region, other families being relatively rare (or at least under-collected, especially Microlepidoptera). Overall, the moth fauna of northern Maharashtra is highly diverse but many species are only uncommonly encountered. Conservation of the area’s flora and plantation by the Forest Division thus helps preserve a reservoir for moth and other insects but more efforts are required towards their scientific documentation and conservation.
A future course of action
Inventorying is the first step in conservation. The list of moths presented here is preliminary, considering the rich faunal diversity of the area; a more comprehensive study is required to document the entire biodiversity present in this area. A detailed survey will be carried out to record the moth fauna of this area with proper scientific documentation. This exhaustive survey of all regions will be conducted using the additional sampling methods noted above. All records will be submitted to the Forest Department and the Zoological Survey of India for documentation.
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