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Identity of Alfred’s Butterfly Discovered by Prof. Hsu Yu Feng


In 1866, Alfred Russel Wallace named a butterfly Robert Swinhoe collected from Takow, Taiwan as Lycaena nisa. However, due to no picture available, for nearly a hundred years, no one can be sure that which butterfly this is.

Recently, Prof. Hsu Yu Feng, an entomologist from the Department of Life Science, identifies that Lycaena nisa is Famegana alsulus. The mystery solves and the name of the butterfly is thus Lycaena nisa and its origin is changed to Taiwan from Australia.

The discovery was published on Zookeys in September with the title of “The identity of Alfred Wallace’s mysterious butterfly taxon Lycaena nisa solved: Famegana nisa comb. nov., a senior synonym of F. alsulus (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae, Polyommatinae)”

Ever since Alfred Wallace’s mysterious butterfly was recorded in 1932, no one has ever seen this butterfly again.

In 1866, Wallace Alfred Russel and Frederic Moore co-published an article “List of lepidopterous insects collected at Takow, Formosa, by Mr. Robert Swinhoe”. In the article, 139 species were reported, 93 moths and 46 butterflies. However, the identity of Lycaena nisa has not been clear.

Another researcher, Gottlieb August Wilhelm Herrich-Schäffer, discovered Lycaena alsulus according to the type specimen collected in 1869 in Australia. This has become the scientific name of the butterfly. Entomologist Jinhaku Sonan published the discovery of Lycaena nisa in Taiwan as Zizera taiwana Sonan in 1938.

To do his research, Prof. Hsu went to the Natural History Museum in London under the support of Forestry Bureau and look at the first holotype in the collection by Wallace. He also visited the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute to see the type specimen made by Jinhaku Sonan. After extensive research across Australia, Hong Kong and Hainan Island, Prof. Hsu concluded that Lycaena nisa and Lycaena alsulus are the same species.

Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator. He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection; his paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Charles Darwin's writings in 1858. This prompted Darwin to publish On the Origin of Species.