Overview

Brief Summary

Introduction

Introduction:

The Prodoxidae is commonly known as the yucca moth family, and it contains some of the icons of coevolution. Small to medium in size, they are among the oldest of all moths. Fewer than 100 species have been described, but ongoing studies have uncovered a great number of species yet to be described.

  

Most prodoxid species fly during the day, but a few were among the very first moths that evolved a nocturnal habit. Most species have highly specific food habits, in that their larvae only eat specific parts of one or a few closely related plant species. If you want to find one of these moths, the easiest way is to search on its host plant because they spend most of their short lives on or around it. For example, if you want to see a yucca moth you can find them resting inside the flowers during the day. And if you come back after dusk with a red flashlight, you can see them in action on the flowers.

  

Members of the Prodoxidae have been of great importance to the study of relationships between insects and plants ever since Darwin. Charles Riley's 1872 discovery that yucca moths are tied in an obligate pollination/herbivory relationship with their hosts quickly turned them into one of the textbook cases of coevolution. Since then, yucca moths and greya moths have come to the fore in exploring questions about host shifts and their role in insect speciation, the evolution of insect pollination, and the evolution of cooperation between species.

  

If you'd like to learn more about the yucca moths and their relatives, use the phylogenetic tree to explore the systematics, ecology, and behavior of the different genera.

  

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Introduction

The Prodoxidae is commonly known as the yucca moth family, and it contains some of the icons of coevolution. Small to medium in size, they are among the oldest of all moths. Fewer than 100 species have been described, but ongoing studies have uncovered a great number of species yet to be described.

Most prodoxid species fly during the day, but a few were among the very first moths that evolved a nocturnal habit. Most species have highly specific food habits, in that their larvae only eat specific parts of one or a few closely related plant species. If you want to find one of these moths, the easiest way is to search on its host plant because they spend most of their short lives on or around it. For example, if you want to see a yucca moth you can find them resting inside the flowers during the day. And if you come back after dusk with a red flashlight, you can see them in action on the flowers.

Members of the Prodoxidae have been of great importance to the study of relationships between insects and plants ever since Darwin. Charles Riley's 1872 discovery that yucca moths are tied in an obligate pollination/herbivory relationship with their hosts quickly turned them into one of the textbook cases of coevolution. Since then, yucca moths and greya moths have come to the fore in exploring questions about host shifts and their role in insect speciation, the evolution of insect pollination, and the evolution of cooperation between species.

If you'd like to learn more about the yucca moths and their relatives, use the phylogenetic tree to explore the systematics, ecology, and behavior of the different genera.

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Comprehensive Description

Life habits of immature stages

Eggs of all prodoxids are laid inside plant tissue. Larvae feed in stems, twigs, buds, seeds or vegetative parts of developing fruits, or in spun-together leaves (Nielsen & Davis 1985, Davis 1987, Davis et al. 1992). There is a trend toward increasing endophagy throughout all immature stages concurrent with the radiation into semi-arid and arid habitats in the more derived genera. Members of basal genera, such as Lampronia, mine inside host tissue, and typically cut out a leaf-case that serves as shelter during the last larval instars and as a pupation site. Members of Mesepiola, Tegeticula and Parategeticula complete larval development inside host tissue, but pupate in soil, whereas Prodoxus (including Agavenema) complete both larval and pupal stages inside the host and emerge as adults.

Lithophragma plant with pupal remains of Greya politella extruding from folded leaf.

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Characteristics

Signa of an undescribed species in the Tegeticula yuccasella complex

The monophyly of Prodoxidae is well supported by:

  • a pair of stellate signa in the corpus bursae (modified or lost in some derived taxa).
  • a rounded sternum VII in the female
  • a triangular tergum VII in the female

Additional morphological traits that, in different combinations, distinguish Prodoxidae from other incurvarioid families include: antennae < 0.6 times length of forewing; forewing normally without metallic lustre; male valva either with an unstalked pectinifer or a pollex; ovipositor laterally compressed (Nielsen 1982, Nielsen & Davis 1985).

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Distribution

Geographic distribution

Prodoxidae is primarily a family of the Northern hemisphere, with the monobasic Prodoxoides being the only Southern hemisphere representative. Lampronia is holarctic in distribution, and its sister group Tetragma confined to northwestern United States. Basal members of Greya occur in humid portions of east Asia and western North America (Davis et al. 1992, Kozlov 1996), with a major subsequent radiation into semiarid portions of the North American west. All other genera (Mesepiola, Tegeticula, Parategeticula, and Prodoxus) occur primarily in the North American deserts, with some secondary invasions of more humid habitats.

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Evolution and Systematics

Evolution

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

View Prodoxidae Tree

Tree compiled from Nielsen & Davis (1985) and Brown et al. (1994)

Prodoxidae was delineated in 1982 as one of six monophyletic families in a realignment of the Incurvarioidea (Nielsen 1982). The subfamily Prodoxinae was the subject of two early revisions (Davis 1967, Frack 1982), but the family delineation marked a starting point for phylogenetic studies at different hierarchical levels based on morphological and molecular data (Nielsen & Davis 1985, Wagner & Powell 1988, Davis et al 1992, Brown et al. 1994a, 1994b, Pellmyr et al. 1996a,b). This unusual degree of attention has been generated by its utility as a model system in ecological and evolutionary studies (Thompson 1987, Addicott et al 1990, Powell 1992, Pellmyr & Huth 1994, Thompson 1994, Addicott 1996, Pellmyr et al 1996, Brown et al 1997).

There is substantial agreement on relationships among the constituent genera. The relative position of Prodoxides and Lampronia+Tetragma is unclear, but its resolution will be important to determine the geographic origin of the family (see Geographic distribution). The aberrant genus Tridentaforma, which shares apomorphic traits with Prodoxidae and Adelidae, was included in the basal grade by Nielsen & Davis (1985), but molecular data removed it from the family and instead supported adelid affinities (Brown et al. 1994a). These genera generally have historically been assigned as a subfamily Lamproniinae, but they represent a non-monophyletic grade.

The remaining genera share the synapomorphy of primary arms of the metathoracic furca being fused with the secondary arms of the furcasternum (Davis et al. 1992:21). The positions of Greya and Mesepiola are very robust, whereas the radiation of the yucca moths (s.l.) was quite rapid and the exact topology remains uncertain (Brown et al. 1994b). The genus Agavenema was nested within Prodoxus in a recent molecular phylogeny using a limited number of taxa (Brown et al 1994b); if corroborated by further study, this genus should be subsumed to create a monophyletic Prodoxus.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 1483
Specimens with Sequences: 1195
Specimens with Barcodes: 1078
Species: 105
Species With Barcodes: 87
Public Records: 791
Public Species: 59
Public BINs: 57
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Barcode data

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Wikipedia

Prodoxidae

The Prodoxidae are a family of moths, generally small in size and nondescript in appearance. They include species of moderate pest status, such as the currant shoot borer, and others of considerable ecological and evolutionary interest, such as various species of "Yucca Moths".

Description and affinities[edit]

Prodoxidae are a family of primitive monotrysian Lepidoptera. Some of these small-to-medium sized moths are day flying, like Lampronia capitella, known to European gardeners as the "Currant Shoot Borer".[2] Others occur in Africa and Asia. The other common genera are generally confined to dry areas of the United States. Tetragma gei feeds on Mountain Avens (Geum triflorum) in the USA. Greya politella lay eggs in the flowers of Saxifragaceae there. Prodoxoides asymmetra occurs in Chile and Argentina (Nielsen and Davis, 1985), but all other prodoxid moth genera have a northern distribution. The enigmatic genus Tridentaforma is sometimes placed here and assumed to be close to Lampronia, while other authors consider it incertae sedis among the closely related family Adelidae.

Yucca moths[edit]

"Yucca Moths" have a remarkable biology. They are famous for an old and intimate relationship with Yucca plants and are their obligate pollinators as well as herbivores (Pellmyr et al., 1996). Interactions of these organisms range from obligate mutualism to commensalism to outright antagonism. Their bore holes are a common sight on trunks of such plants as the Soaptree yucca. Two of the three yucca moth genera in particular, Tegeticula and Parategeticula, have an obligate pollination mutualism with yuccas. Yuccas are only pollinated by these moths, and the pollinator larvae feed exclusively on yucca seeds; the female moths use their modified mouthparts to insert the pollen into the stigma of the flowers, after having oviposited in the ovary, where the larvae feed on some (but not all) of the developing ovules. Species of the third genus of yucca moths, Prodoxus, are not engaged in the pollination mutualism, nor do the larvae feed on developing seeds. Their eggs are deposited in fruits and leaves, where they eat and grow, not emerging until fully mature.

References[edit]

  • Davis, D.R. (1999). The Monotrysian Heteroneura. Ch. 6, pp. 65–90 in Kristensen, N.P. (Ed.). Lepidoptera, Moths and Butterflies. Volume 1: Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography. Handbuch der Zoologie. Eine Naturgeschichte der Stämme des Tierreiches / Handbook of Zoology. A Natural History of the phyla of the Animal Kingdom. Band / Volume IV Arthropoda: Insecta Teilband / Part 35: 491 pp. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York.
  • Nielsen, E.S. and Davis, D.R. (1985). The first southern hemisphere prodoxid and the phylogeny of the Incurvarioidea (Lepidoptera). Systematic Entomology, 10: 307-322.
  • Pellmyr, O., Thompson, J.N., Brown, J. and Harrison, R.G. (1996). Evolution of pollination and mutualism in the yucca moth lineage. American Naturalist, 148: 827-847.
  • Powell, J. A. (1992). Interrelationships of yuccas and yucca moths. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 7: 10–15, Britannica Online Encyclopedia.
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