There is a new species of owl butterfly—but it is not named for any scientist or geographical region. Rather, the name was chosen by the highest bidder of an auction. That’s right—the Minerva owl butterfly, or Opsiphanes blythekitzmillerae, is named for a late, beloved grandmother whose memory was honored by her five grandchildren, who were given the opportunity to name the butterfly when an anonymous donor won an online auction. With a realized bid of $40,800, the naming rights are granted for the new owl butterfly. According to the University of Florida’s press release, the auction winnings benefit further research on Mexican butterflies.
The new owl butterfly was discovered by George Austin and Andrew Warren, who discovered the species at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. The Minerva owl butterfly hails from the Sonoran Desert in Mexico. Austin and Warren discuss more about their Minerva owl butterfly findings in this week’s edition of the Bulletin of the Allyn Museum, a publication from the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.
So for whom exactly is this new butterfly named? The Minerva owl butterfly honors Margery Minerva Blythe, who was born on November 17, 1883 in Malvern, Ohio. She married Frank Kitzmiller on September 7, 1904 and the two became parents to three sons; the family lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Margery Minerva Blythe Kitzmiller, who passed away on March 10, 1972, was “known as Minerva or ‘Bango,'” explains Beverly Sensbach, Florida Museum Development Director. Continued Sensbach in the press release, “[Blythe Kitzmiller] was an extremely creative person who wrote poetry, played piano and sang, and her grandchildren wanted to honor her by naming this beautiful new butterfly in her honor.”
The iGavel.com public auction, which ended on November 2, is thought to have been the first time in North America that an online auction granted naming rights for a new butterfly species. The press release states John Calhoun, a research associate at the Florida State Collection of Arthopods, expresses that some people worry about the commercialization of species discovery, resulting in the “discovery” of new species with the central intent of monetary gain. “However,” says Calhoun, “the rigorous process required to actually publish and validate new species makes this outcome less likely. It also demonstrates how science can become self-perpetuating; an important discovery can help fund additional important discoveries.”
“Opsiphanes blythekitzmillerae differs from similar species in its genus by having a unique wing shape and in having slightly translucent, tawny wing scales, allowing the underside pattern to be seen from above,” explains Warren. Though the Minerva owl butterfly looks much like Opsiphanes boisduvallii, another species of owl butterfly, Warren says that Opsiphanes blythekitzmillerare “differs from [boisduvallii] in many structural and superficial characters.” Making the discovery of the Minerva owl butterfly even more interesting is that it is the first butterfly in its group of large, colorful butterflies to have been discovered in more than a century. The Minerva has a wingspan of approximately four inches and sports an orange color.
The University of Florida. “UF’s New Owl Butterfly Species Naming Rights Auctioned for $40,800.” 21 November 2007. 23 November 2007. http://news.ufl.edu/2007/11/21/uf%e2%80%99s-new-owl-butterfly-species-naming-rights-auctioned-for-40800/