Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics / Zoological Museum Amsterdam



Phylogeny of the Yponomeutidae (Lepidoptera)

by Dr. S.A. Ulenberg





The Yponomeutinae attracted the attention of scientists already in the 18th century when Réaumur (1738) published drawings of nests, larvae, pupae and adult moths of by that time still undescribed pests - the Small Ermine Moths. The first descriptions of small ermine moths go back to the time of Linnaeus. The subfamily Yponomeutinae is one of the groups of Microlepidoptera with a world-wide distribution, representatives of which occur in almost every habitat type (except the arctic regions and the deserts) inhabiting both lowlands and mountains. Being mostly oligophagous and feeding on plants of 23 widely distributed plant families, these moths are adapted to exist in all continents with a temperate, tropical or subtropical climate. Apart from being such a successful group the Yponomeutinae appear to pose many interesting biological problems that make them highly suitable for evolutionary and phylogenetic studies. The moths of the subfamily are characterized by relative small dimensions. The wingspan varies from 9 to 31 mm. The colour of the wings is usually dull, the forewings mostly have a lot of dots and spots (Yponomeuta spp, see fig. 1), are cross-striped (Cedestis spp.) or are monochromatic (e.g., Euhyponomeuta spp., Ocnerostoma spp.)

Fig. 1: Yponomeuta evonymellus

Aim of the study

The aim of the study is to sort out the taxonomy of the genera and the species and to compute the most probable phylogenetic relations among the taxa of the subfamily Yponomeutinae. The obtained cladograms are used to deduct the sequence of changes in the biological traits that play a role as isolating mechanism among the species. In the Yponomeutinae such trait is the host plant relation. The ultimate aim of this project is to provide phylogenetic evidence for processes of speciation in the genus Yponomeuta.



  • The taxonomy

    Recently an overview has been published of the 231 Yponomeutinae species classified in 25 genera. This work is the result of a cooperation with the Yponomeutidae specialist Dr. Zlata S. Gershenson (Institute of Zoology, Kiev, Ukraine). The full reference of the book is The Yponomeutinae of the World exclusive of the Americas by Zlata S. Gershenson and Sandrine A. Ulenberg, Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen, Verhandelingen Afdeling Natuurkunde, Tweede Reeks, deel 99, 202 pp (1998), ISBN 0-444-85819-9.

  • The phylogeny

    Currently Sandrine Ulenberg is working on the phylogeny of subfamilies of the Yponomeutidae, the genera of the Yponomeutinae and the species of the genus Yponomeuta.