Recently the Insectarium received the Sphingidae collection of Mr. Thierry Vaglia, a research associate at the Montréal Insectarium. This donation of large-size moths is of inestimable scientific value. The collection has already made it possible to describe new species, and it's not finished – to the delight of our specialists!
The Sphingidae: astonishing moths from around the world
This family is made up of rather large-sized moths, with stout, solid bodies and narrow wings for rapid, or even “stationary”, flight. They're often equipped with a long or very long proboscis to suck up their food, which is nectar and pollen. Although they're moths, a number of them – like the Amphion and Hemaris species – fly during the day. That behavior, combined with their ability to hover, has earned them the alternative name hummingbird hawk moth.
There are about 40 species in Québec, with a total of 1,400 on the planet. Some of the species are even migratory.
Charles Darwin's prediction
Among the most famous hawk moths may be mentioned the death's head variety of the genus Acherontia, or the famous hawk moth associated with Darwin (Xanthopan morgani praedicta). The great English researcher and father of the theory of evolution had predicted that it would be a butterfly or moth, probably a hawk moth, that would pollinate an orchid with a nectary that was at least 30 centimeters long. At the time, no butterfly with that long a proboscis had been identified. A number of years later, a sphinx moth was found that was capable of pollinating the orchid with the long nectary, and the subspecies was named praedicta (Xanthopan morgani) in honor of the man who had predicted it, Charles Darwin.
A collection to extend the horizons of science
The unbelievable collection received by the Insectarium consists of 225 entomological drawers containing over 6,680 specimens consisting of 125 types, types being reference specimens actually used to describe a new species. The collection comprises a remarkable sampling of the world's population of Sphingidae, with an emphasis on the Americas fauna.
This collection ranks amongst the most comprehensive in North America. More than 50 new species in it remain to be described. Among the species and subspecies of hawk moth described in the collection, some are named as tributes to directors of scientific institutions or close collaborators. The Xylophanes lamontagnei pays tribute to Michel Lamontagne, former director of the Nature Museums; the Theretra clotho vincenti to Gilles Vincent, previous director of the Jardin botanique; and very recently, the Theretra detonnancourorum honors Jacques and Pierre de Tonanncour, two important collaborators of the Insectarium.