Lepidoptera Types of the Royal Museum for Central Africa

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Digitalisation of the type specimens of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) of the Royal Museum for Central Africa:
before long the pictures on the web

Aim and scope of the digitalisation programme


The specimens

As mentioned before, the types are the most manipulated specimens and the digitisation programme was focused on them. The aim was to put on internet recto and verso photographs of type material. First of all of, the primary type (holotype, lectotype or neotype) was photographed.If available, the allotype (which is usually a specimen of the opposite sex) was also recorded. When no primary type or allotype were present, a paratypewas photographed. Since it is a tradition to deposit paratypes in sister museums, these specimens are, in modern Lepidopterology, nearly as valuable as primary types.

On the photographs, the recto and the verso of all or nearly all labels were included, as well as a small lath to have an idea of the expanse of the specimen (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Left : Cymothoe arcuata Overlaet (Nymphalidae), holotype recto ; right : Bunaeopsis princeps aurata Rougeot (Saturniidae), holotype verso.

In this project, all types of Lepidoptera under the responsibility of the authors were photographed: the butterflies, the skippers and the macromoths.The Microlepidoptera and Pyraloidea (curated by others) as well as the Lymantriidae were not included. This latter family is now being revised and, when revision will be completed, the photographs of types will also be included.

Bibliographic work

Table 1. Number of primary types, allotypes and paratypes if primary types are absent, of butterflies and skippers of the collection of the R.M.C.A.
Family/subfamilyHtAtPt
Papilionidae3094
Pieridae 874016
Nymphalinae341 190 36
Acraeinae35 13 4
Satyrinae18 13 13
Danainae3 2 0
Hesperiidae24 18 7
Lycaenidae 135 58 30
Subtotal673 343 110

Although photographing the specimens proceeded rather quickly, a big drawback was the verification of the types.Doing this verification with the original literature would have been a monumental task, so we made the choice to do it with recent catalogues, if available (1960 and later). Luckily, there is a recent catalogue for butterflies and skippers (Ackery et al. 1995), and verification did not take too much time. Here follows the list of type material for this group in the collection of the R.M.C.A. (table 1).

Table 2. List of catalogues used to verify the type status of the Heterocera of the R.M.C.A. The family/subfamily names are the ones currently accepted in Lepidopterology, original references at the end of the paper.
Family/subfamily bibliography
Agaristinae Kiriakoff, 1977
Arctiinae Watson & Goodger, 1995
Drepanidae Watson, 1965
Geometridae Scoble, 1999
Noctuidae Poole, 1989
Notodontidae Kiriakoff 1964 & 1970
Saturniidae Bouyer, 1999
Sphingidae Kitching & Cadiou, 2000
Thaumetopoeinae Kiriakoff, 1970
Thyretinae Kiriakoff, 1960
Thyrididae Whalley, 1971

Unlike the butterflies and skippers, there is no single catalogue for the Afrotropical moths. Even on the catalogue level, literature on moths is scattered in different journals and books. Those that were used for the verifications of the type material are listed in table 2. Knowing that there are about 50 macromoth families, it is obvious that the coverage of this group in recent literature is far from complete.

When recent catalogues were not available, checking was done with older ones or information found the collection of The Natural History Museum, London. Table 3 shows the list of the numbers of primary types of macromoths at the R.M.C.A.

Table 3. Number of primary types in the Heterocera of the R.M.C.A., excluding Microlepidoptera, Pyraloidea and Lymantriidae.
FamilyHt
Noctuidae 191
Notodontidae 158
Geomatridae 85
Thyretidae 63
Arctiidae 49
Zygaenidae 40
Saturniidae 38
Eupterotidae 32
Lasiocampidae 29
Agaristidae 19
Ctenuchidae 19
Limacodidae 13
Sphingidae 11
Thaumetopoeidae 8
Drepanidae 7
Other families 14
Total 776

None the less, the authors were sometimes confronted with unsolvable problems. For example, two holotypes of a Saturniid species mentioned in recent catalogue could not be traced back through the zoological record and their label data could not be checked.

This shows once more the weakness of our actual state of the knowledge on African moths: only catalogues or revisions, all of them with very little illustrations, mainly in black and white, and illustrates the difficulties in identifying taxa in the absence of reliable collections.

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