Yale Peabody Museum Summer Internship

Cladistics: Character Coding in Catocala Larvae

Advisors: Larry Gall (Collections Manager, YPM Division of Entomology) and Nicole Palffy-Muhoray (Asst. Director, YPM Student Programs)


Length: 8 weeks in the summer


Project Description:

An interested undergraduate is invited to participate in ongoing research at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History on the systematics of the Lepidoptera genus Catocala. Catocala is an unusually large and diverse genus of colorful moths that live in temperate regions worldwide. Although the species-boundaries of the approximately 120 North American taxa are fairly well-researched, the phylogenetic relationships between species complexes are poorly understood. In part this is because traditional morphological characters used for taxonomy in Lepidoptera either do not vary between the Catocala species complexes, or appear to vary in ways that are not informative.


This long-term research project encompasses a systematic revision of the North American species in this moth genus using a wide range of more traditional taxonomic attributes but notably including new morphological, molecular, behavioral, geographic, and ecological characters. As part of this endeavor, researchers have amassed a corpus of high-resolution images of Catocala larvae, and hypothesize that close examination of larval external morphology may yield species-level determining characters that could be scored and analyzed to yield a cladogram. This work has never been done on Catocala larvae, and may provide important insights into the phylogenetic relationships of this notoriously complex genus.


The undergraduate researcher will begin by studying the corpus of larval Catocala images and will develop an initial set of possibly species-level morphological characters by comparing images of known different species. Once the student has a robust list of characters, they will score all characters for all North American species for which sufficient numbers of larval images are available. They will then produce a cladogram using existing numerical cladistics software, which can be compared to existing hypotheses about phylogenetic relationships within Catocala.


Stipend: $3000


CLICK HERE to apply!