The LepNet research advisory board (RAB) is a subgroup of our TCN’s CoPIs charged with developing guidelines for research projects and grant proposals that are requesting digitized specimen data ahead of online publication. LepNet is receiving requests for Lepidoptera on a regular basis, including requests for student research projects and conservation projects that include sensitive data. Thus, the goal of the RAB is to establish a process that maximizes efficiency of digitization for LepNet, opportunity for collaboration, and publications for those involved (as appropriate). We are tracking LepNet’s collaborative research projects online and engaging in regular discussions with PIs and at RAB bi-monthly meetings.  While project tracking will help our TCN become more organized, we also hope this new pipeline will generate even more energy and excitement for research that uses digitized collections data.

The initial project that precipitated the creation of a research advisory board was the Poweshiek Skipperling project, which was so successful in terms of soliciting participation by museums, we wanted to expand the projects program.  We hope that we can ensure that participants are provided attribution (e.g. authorship in checklist publications) and project leads let participants know exactly what they need. Please contact one of the leads for each project if you are interested in helping and if you have a project you want to solicit engagement by the community please contact Jennifer Jennifer Zaspel (

We have identified nine projects to date, each one is described below.

Project No. Priority Project Name Name, Affiliation (contacts)
# 1 high Puerto Rico Hurricane Project Catherine Hulshof
# 2 high Woolly bear tymbal morphology Project Nick Dowdy, MPM
# 3 high Colias eurytheme Project Matt Nielsen, UNC-Chapel Hill
# 4 high Agriculturally significant Lepidoptera Project Zaspel, Bledsoe, Cobb, Klem (Zaspel student)
# 5 Pieris biocontrol Project JJ Weis, MPM
# 6 Mimallonid biogeography Ryan St Laurent, UF (Kawahara student)
# 7 ? Collection patterns of North American Lepidoptera Erica Fisher, Mich State (Cognato student)
# 8 Medium Catocala Akito Kawahara, Larry Gall
#9 Poweshiek skipperling Project Anna Monafils, Central Michiagn University

The Wooly Bear Project (Pyrrharctia isabella)

– Nick Dowdy

LepNet Request: Occurrence data for Pyrrharctia isabella

Tiger moths (Erebidae: Arctiinae) are a diverse group of Lepidoptera which are known to sequester host plant toxins and produce ultrasonic signals in response to bat echolocation as well as during courtship. These traits are known to vary between species, but we lack knowledge about how traits like these vary within a species. Our research team is interested in studying the variation in a number of behavioral traits exhibited by Pyrrharctia isabella. This moth is an ideal organism to study as it can be highly abundant, easy to identify, and has an extremely broad range occurring between 25* N and 40* N and from coast to coast.

We want to sample individuals of this species from the extremes of its range and everywhere in between to document whether differences in behavior exist in different locations and what factors might be driving those differences.  In order to study the behavior of this interesting moth, we need to know where and when we can reliably find it, especially near the extremes of its range. Unfortunately, there are only 2,600 records for this widely-distributed species, which is why we need YOUR help!

Please help us document the range and activity period of this species across North America by uploading occurrence information for this species!

Some things to keep in mind before uploading:

1. Please only include information about individuals seen in the wild

2. Information from adult moths is preferred, particularly at southern locations. This is because 1) the larval stage of Pyrrharctia isabella can be difficult to reliably discriminate from that of other species that occur in the southwestern United States and 2) our study is focused on adult behaviors, so we need to know at what time of year the adults are flying

3. Places where we desperately need more information include all locations north of 50* N and any location south of 30*N. BUT we greatly appreciate all occurrence data! Every record increases the definition and confidence in the range of this species. You don’t have to upload records from places like Florida, Mexico, or Northern Canada to meaningfully contribute to this project.

Please also visit the Wooly Bear Project on iNaturalist.

Thank you so much for your time, interest, and uploads!

– Dr. Nicolas J. Dowdy, Purdue University, Milwaukee Public Museum 

Predicting resilience to hurricane disturbance across forests of Puerto Rico

-Catherine Hulsoff, Akito Kawahara, Neil Cobb

LepNet Request: Occurrence data and images for Puerto Rican Lepidoptera.

Hurricanes affect the structure and dynamics of tropical and subtropical forests. The impacts of hurricanes can homogenize or disrupt biotic interactions across extremely large spatial scales and can affect distinct levels of biodiversity from individual responses to speciation and extinction. Given the predicted increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes [1], identifying the organismal traits that determine sensitivity to disturbances is a major priority for predicting long-term effects on biotic communities [2]. Yet, few studies have quantitatively measured species recovery and the traits that confer resilience (i.e. the ability to withstand or recover rapidly; [3]) in response to extreme disturbances. Quantifying organismal responses to large-scale disturbances has traditionally been studied within a single biome or habitat, limiting our ability to generate predictions across a range of environmental conditions. To build better predictive models and more effective management strategies for species recovery, empirical studies that measure changes in species diversity and abundances across biomes are necessary.

Hurricane Maria caused complete defoliation across Puerto Rico, providing an unusual opportunity to study species recovery across vegetation zones.

Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) are prominent indicators of environmental change [4] and one of the most diverse groups of ectotherms in tropical forests. Lepidoptera species fluctuate with climatic phenomena related to ENSO [5,6] and have demonstrated distribution shifts, earlier appearance times, and changes in size and color over decadal periods of time [7,8]. However, the acute effects of large-scale disturbances like tropical storms on entire assemblages and successional trajectories of insects following disturbances is not well studied [9,10].

The proposed study will investigate the relationship between Lepidoptera diversity, abundance and life history traits (resource type, wing color and size, seasonal diapause, and flight period) in contrasting forest types following an extreme hurricane by integrating museum records, rapid biodiversity inventories, image recognition technologies, and Bayesian models. Specifically, we will quantify changes in species diversity, abundance, and trait variation among Lepidoptera assemblages through time in wet and dry subtropical forests of Puerto Rico. Wet and dry forests comprise more than half of the total land area in tropical latitudes and are directly impacted by rapidly changing disturbance regimes.

Do subtropical dry and wet forests differ predictably in the rate of change of species diversity and abundances following an extreme disturbance? Are these differences in responses mediated by environmental factors, traits, or both?

Hulsof will conduct a 5-month survey along an elevation gradietn to answer these questions. These questions have been difficult to address given the varied disturbance type and intensity across tropical forests. Most disturbances are highly localized. In contrast, Hurricane Maria caused complete and homogenous defoliation making it the ideal but rare natural experiment necessary for determining species responses, and resilience, to extreme disturbances across forest types. Dry forest species are adapted to dry, high-light environments and variable resource availability and may thus be uniquely resilient to disturbances that mimic the seasonality of these forests (i.e. a major defoliation event). As a result, we predict that species diversity and abundances will approach equilibrium faster in dry forests. Further, we expect communities following the hurricane to shift away from specialist, vulnerable species and towards generalist, widespread species though we expect community changes to be more extreme in wet forests where conditions are generally more climatically stable.


Linking parasitoids of Pieris rapae with North American pierid butterflies

-JJ Weis and Jennifer Zaspel

LepNet Request: Pierinae occurrence data (or all pierid species).

The cabbage white butterfly or imported cabbageworm (Pieris rapae) has been a damaging pest in cole crops (including broccoli and cabbage) in North America since the 1860’s, when it is thought to have been accidentally introduced in Quebec from Europe or Asia.  A Eurasian parasitoid wasp species (Cotesia glomerata) was released in the 1880’s near Washington D.C. with the goal or reducing P. rapae populations (Herlihy et al. 2012).  Though C. glomerata established in North America the introduction is thought to have largely failed to reduce crop damage from P. rapae.  Between the 1960’s and 1990’s another parasitoid wasp (Cotesia rubecula) was released in several sites across North America, including New England, Washington State, and Minnesota, and seems to have outcompeted C. glomerata in agricultural landscapes in Northern North America (Herlihy et al. 2012).

The establishment of C. rubecula in North America is thought to be an overall success for modern introduction biological control (Van Driesche 2008; Van Driesche & Nunn 2002). C. rubecula is thought to reduce crop damage by P. rapae to a greater extent than C. glomerata. C. rubecula is also thought to be a specialist on P. rapae.  In contrast, the presence of the more generalist C. glomerata may have reduced populations of native North American butterflies in the family Pieridae, including Pieris (napi) oleracea (Van Driesche et al. 2004; Benson et al. 2003).  Though the interactions of P. rapae and its parasitoids are well-studied in agricultural landscapes there is very little information on the effects of C. glomerata on most native North American pierid butterflies, which are primarily forest and meadow species.

It is not clear if the introduction of C. glomerata reduced native pierid butterfly populations, nor if the subsequent competitive exclusion of C. glomerata by C. rubecula in agricultural landscapes in northern North America has benefitted native pierids in those regions.  It is also not clear if the continuing dominance of C. glomerata in agricultural landscapes in the southern United States is at least partially the result of the presence of other suitable host species in those regions.  Here we propose using historical data from museum collections to test the following hypotheses (i) the regional presence of P. rapae and C. glomerata are associated with reduced native pierid abundance and diversity, (ii) the regional presence of C. rubecula is associated with increased native pierid abundance and diversity, and (iii) that high native pierid abundance and diversity is associated with the continued dominance of C. glomerata in agricultural landscapes.


Benson, J. et al., 2003. Assessment of risk posed by introduced braconid wasps to Pieris virginiensis, a native woodland butterfly in New England. Biological Control, 26(1), pp.83–93.

Herlihy, M.V. et al., 2012. Distribution of Cotesia rubecula (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) and Its Displacement of Cotesia glomeratain Eastern North America. Florida Entomologist, 95(2), pp.461–467.

Van Driesche, R.G., 2008. Biological control of Pieris rapae in New England: Host suppression and displacement of Cotesia glomerata by Cotesia rubecula (Hymenoptera: Braconidae). Florida Entomologist, 91(1), pp.22–25.

Van Driesche, R.G. & Nunn, C., 2002. Establishment of a Chinese strain of Cotesia rubecula (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) in the northeastern United States. Florida Entomologist, 85(2), pp.386–388.

Van Driesche, R.G., Nunn, C. & Pasquale, A., 2004. Life history pattern, host plants, and habitat as determinants of population survival of Pieris napi oleracea interacting with an introduced braconid parasitoid. Biological Control.

Additional information: Weis, J.J., Gray, H.L., and Heimpel, G.E. 2017. High hyperparasitism of Cotesia rubecula (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) in Minnesota and Massachusetts. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society. 89(4), pp. 1–5.


Poweshiek Skipperling Project

Anna Monfils

LepNet Request: Oarisma poweshiek occurrence data .

LepNet is interested in accumulating records (images and distribution data) of the endangered North American Poweshiek Skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek, Hesperiidae) for a study led by Dr. Anna Monfils’ lab at Central Michigan University. This species is endangered, and its abundance has declined rapidly within the last 20 years. We are interested in knowing how many specimens exist in North American collections for a potential collaborative publication. If you have records of this species in your collection, or any of the 7 North American Oarisma, or have any questions, please email Anna at For the purpose of this publication, we would like to prioritize the digitization Oarisma as part of LepNet.

A research/outreach/education video:

Poweshiek Skipperling Field Project

Evolution in response to climate change in the seasonal polyphenism of Colias eurytheme butterflies

Matthew Nielsen

LepNet Request: Images and occurrence data for Colias eurytheme.

Summary: At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Matthew Nielsen (NSF-PDRG 1609023) is digitizing images of specimens of a single species (Colias eurytheme) from multiple collections across the US and developing software in python to analyze wing pattern variation among specimens. He will use this data to test for evolutionary changes in C. eurytheme’s seasonal polyphenism in response to the mismatch between photoperiod and temperature caused by climate change.

Description: Seasonality is a major source of environmental variation for many organisms, and has led to the evolution of many types of seasonal plasticity.  Seasonal polyphenism is a particularly common form of seasonal plasticity in butterflies in which adult butterflies have different morphs if they develop at different times of year. Determining which seasonal morph to adopt requires the use of an environmental cue to indicate the current season and predict future conditions. Although some organisms use current weather, such as temperature or humidity, as cues, short term variation can make these unreliable predictors of future conditions. As an alternative, many organisms use photoperiod as a reliable indicator of time and year and future temperatures which is fully independent from short term weather variation.

Unfortunately, anthropogenic climate change poses an extra challenge for organisms which use photoperiod as a cue. Photoperiod can be used as a cue for seasonal conditions because of a consistent historical relationship between time of year and temperature. Although humanity is changing many aspects of the environment quite rapidly, including temperature, photoperiod is the one feature of the environment we can’t alter. Thus, contemporary photoperiods no longer predict the same temperatures that they once did, creating a mismatch between the cue (photoperiod) and selective environment (temperature). This would lead organisms to produce the wrong seasonal morph for at least some of the year.

Ventral and dorsal views of the darker spring form and the lighter summer form

My research seeks to determine whether evolution can correct for the mismatch caused by anthropogenic climate change by using Colias eurytheme (the alfalfa butterfly). This widespread, polyvoltine species has a seasonal polyphenism with a known thermoregulatory function. Among other changes, these butterflies have darker ventral wings in cool seasons to allow them to bask more effectively (see pictures). This polyphenism, however, specifically responds to photoperiod, rather than temperature, so climate change should be creating a cue-environment mismatch in this species. Because the cue for this plasticity, photoperiod, hasn’t changed, any change in the time of year when the different morphs are found would reflect an evolutionary change in their response to photoperiod. To test for this change, I am photographing C. eurytheme specimens from natural history collections from the last 60+ years, and will compare their wing patterns to the date they were collected. Specifically, I predict that if C. eurytheme has evolved in response to climate change, the summer form should occur earlier in the spring and later in the fall in years closer to the present, while we would see little or no change if evolution has not been able to keep up with climate change. Given that both photoperiod and temperature also show considerable natural spatial variation, I’m planning to look for this response in multiple parts of the species range, emphasizing variation in latitude.

So far, I have visited the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the McGuire Collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History to photograph specimens. In addition to photographs of about 2,0000 butterflies, this has given me a much better idea of when and where specimens are most available from. Based on this, I’ve decided to focus, at least initially, on three broad latitudinal transects, one for the west coast, one for the east coast, and one for the great plains (Texas to the Dakotas), emphasizing the southern portions of these regions where C. eurytheme is more abundant and found during a greater portion of the year. Temporally, most of these areas are relatively well sampled from the 1940s or 50s through the 1980s or 90, with a few gaps I’m working to fill in. More recent samples, however, are scarce. Moving forward with this project, I’m particularly keen to find samples from the Southeast (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in particular; specimens from these states are surprisingly rare so far), and anywhere during the last two decades. Any insight into collections where these might be available would be greatly appreciated (my email is

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