For the first time in 109 years, a new species of butterfly has been discovered in Israel.
Evolutionary biologist and entomologist Vladimir Lukhtanov, who works at St. Petersburg's Zoological Institute, discovered that a "common species" was actually an entirely new organism. Indeed, this "new" organism had an interesting evolutionary history.
Named the new organism "Acentria's fritillary (Melitaea acentria)," the new species was found flying over the slopes of Israel's Mount Hermon, and is described the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics.
"To me, it was a surprise that no one had already discovered it," Lukhtanov said. "Thousands of people had observed and many had even photographed this beautifully colored butterfly, yet no one recognized it as a separate species."
"The lepidopterists (experts in butterflies and moths) had been sure that the Hermon samples belonged to the common species called Persian fritillary (Melitaea persea), because of their similar appearance, but nobody made the effort to study their internal anatomy and DNA."
"The species is probably one of a handful of butterflies known to have arisen through hybridization between two other species in the past. This process is known to be common in plants, but scientists have only recently realized it might also be present in butterflies."
Lukhtanov and his students carried out an exhaustive study of Israeli butterflies in 2012.
In 2013, St. Petersburg University master's student Asya Novikova - who in 2013 began studying for her PhD in Jerusalem's Hebrew University - sampled a few fritillaries from Mount Hermon.
At around the same time, researchers noticed the fritillaries did not look exactly like the Persian variety they were used to seeing. Indeed, their genitalia appeared different.
Lukhtanov and his students continued researching, sequencing the specimens' DNA, and found that the species in question had a unique molecular signature, different from those of any known fritillary.
Currently, the believe the species can only be found in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.