LAOTHOE POPULETI (Bienert, [1870])

GB: Persian Poplar Hawkmoth

Smerinthus populeti Bienert, 1870, Lepid. Ergeb. Reise Persien: 33.

Type locality: [Iran,] Meschhet [Mashhad]; [Iran,] ??Charlog.

(Taxonomic notes. (i) 'Subsp.' syriaca (Gehlen, 1932a) is not tenable as it differs little from typical Laothoe populeti; it appears in Turkey along a narrow hybrid zone between L. populeti and Laothoe populi populi (Linnaeus, 1758). It is therefore synonymized with L. populeti. The same applies to 'subsp.' intermedia (Gehlen, 1934a).

(ii) Eitschberger et al. (1989) unnecessarily reverted L. populeti to specific rank without giving any reason, other than that the cornuti in the male aedeagus are fewer in number and less robust. As the genitalia are naturally variable in most Smerinthini, minor variations such as these tend to have little taxonomic significance. However, DNA barcoding indicates that L. populeti is indeed distinct from Laothoe populi. Conversely, females of L. populeti will attract males of Laothoe populi populi in England, and the resulting larvae and pupae are perfectly viable over a number of generations. This indicates that speciation is not complete and that L. populeti is a sibling species.

(iii) Recent DNA barcoding studies indicate that Laothoe austauti (Staudinger, 1877) from northwest Africa is related to this species. The two species appear to be the western and eastern remnants of a species which once occurred right across a cooler, greener and wetter North Africa during the last ice age.)


BIOGEOGRAPHICAL AFFILIATION

Holarctic; western Palaearctic region. Pleistocene refuge: Monocentric -- Iranian.


ADULT DESCRIPTION AND VARIATION

Male Laothoe populeti, Turkey. Photo: © NHMUK. Male Laothoe populeti, Ordubad, Armenia. Photo: © NHMUK

Wingspan: 70--120mm. Very like Laothoe populi populi, but with no violet tint to the grey pigmentation, which is itself paler and faintly pinkish orange. Many have a reddish tone (f. vera Staudinger) -- easily produced by subjecting developing pupae to heat, or grey replacing the pinkish tint. The eyes are olive-green -- in Laothoe populi populi they are usually dark brown. In the genitalia of most males, the lobes of the sacculus are of equal length but more slender than those in Laothoe populi populi, especially the upper one; the aedeagus has fewer and thinner cornuti. The uncus is obviously broader and the gnathos longer than in Laothoe populi populi.


Female Laothoe populeti, Turkey. Photo: © Tony Pittaway.

ADULT BIOLOGY

As in Laothoe austauti. However, many copulating pairs separate before morning, with the female laying some ova that same night.


FLIGHT-TIME

Trivoltine; April/May, June/July and September. (When kept together under identical conditions, pupae of this species hatch noticeably later than those of Laothoe populi populi.)


EARLY STAGES

OVUM: Pale green, almost sperical and large for the size of moth. As in Laothoe populi populi, but proportionately larger.

LARVA: Very similar to that of Laothoe austauti in all its stages. The caudal horn is noticeably longer, more curved and stouter than in larvae of Laothoe populi populi from western Europe, but never orange as in Laothoe austauti. The forehead may be pale blue in a few individuals.

Found from April until October.

Hostplants. Populus and Salix spp.

PUPA: Matt black or dark brown, rough (not glossy), unlike that of Smerinthus. Cremaster short, dorso-ventrally flattened, broad at base and terminating in a sharp point.


PARASITOIDS

None recorded.


DISTRIBUTION

Transcaucasia, including the southern Republic of Georgia (Didmanidze, Petrov & Zolotuhin, 2013), Armenia (Dubatolov, [1999]; Didmanidze, Petrov & Zolotuhin, 2013; Wąsala & Zamorski, 2015) and Azerbaijan (Didmanidze, Petrov & Zolotuhin, 2013), eastern Turkey (de Freina, 2012; Akin, 2012), north-east Iraq (Wiltshire, 1957), the mountainous Iranian plateau (Brandt, 1938; Ghassemi, Alemansoor & Alehossein, 2009; Lehmann & Zahiri, 2011; Didmanidze, Petrov & Zolotuhin, 2013), and western Turkmenistan (Danov & Pereladov, 1985).

Extra-limital range. None.


Global distribution of Laothoe populeti. Map: © Tony Pittaway.

OTHER SUBSPECIES

None, although the very closely related Laothoe populi populi (Linnaeus, 1758) occurs across Europe and Central Asia to southern Siberia.


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