With all the exploring we’ve done throughout the world, we’d be tempted to believe that there isn’t much left to discover. And with all the species dying off or becoming extinct, we’d think that we already know pretty much every animal species on the planet. Well, we’d be wrong on both counts.
Not only do 95% of the world’s oceans remain unexplored, but so do some parts of land. And while the discovery of new species has definitely dies down in the past years, as recently as 2012 we found over 20,000 new species in a single year. And new species are still being found to this day.
The Tanana Arctic
Incorrectly identified for over sixty years, the Tanana Arctic Alaskan butterfly is an important symbol. Not only does it mark the fact that we can still find species even after incorrectly identifying them for more than half a century, but the lepidopteran can also feel climate change setting in.
Living in aspen and spruce forests in the Tanana-Yukon River Basin, the Tanana Arctic can feel any change in the climate. If a big enough change in their environment is picked up by the insects (and it most certainly will), the butterflies will immediately move out. And even more troublesome, the permafrost in the area is already melting, giving way to climate change.
But how did the creature go unidentified for sixty years? Actually, this sort of thing happens all the time. Specimens are collected, assumed to belong to certain species, and then left in a museum. Years later, other, more experienced researchers examine the specimens and determine they were incorrectly identified.
The Tanana Hybrid
With the Tanana Arctic Being the only Alaskan butterfly species identified in the past three decades, it’s understandable that experts are excited about examining it. And during these examination sessions, the figured out that the insect was actually a hybrid of two butterflies that mated prior to the last ice age.
The two related species are the White-veined Arctic and the Chryxus Arctic. An interspecies mating apparently took place before the last ice age, leading to the creation of our little topic for the day. This mating was triggered by the climate getting colder, which pushed the Chryxus Arctic into White-veined Arctic territory.
Beringia is where this most interesting of phenomena took place. The whole event is very significant for biologists everywhere, as it shows that some species form hybrids in ways that haven’t been considered before when talking about animals. It’s a habit often associated with plants, however.
Image source: Pixabay