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The table below describes the 5 zoogeographical regions of the world, each of which has evolved its own flora and fauna as a result of its isolation from other regions.

 

North & South America were not physically linked until about 3 million years ago, and are now only linked by the narrow Isthmus of Panama, so species interchange between the 2 regions is limited.

 

The fauna and flora of the Palaearctic region is isolated from most of Africa by the barrier formed by the Sahara and Arabian deserts; and from the Oriental region by the Himalayan mountains.

 

The Australian region is isolated from the Oriental region by vast expanses of ocean, but several butterfly and moth species have been able to spread by island-hopping.

 
The zoogeographical regions

Holarctic

Palaearctic ( Europe, north Africa, the Middle East, temperate Asia, Korea, Japan ) and Nearctic ( United States, Canada, Greenland, Hawaii ).

Neotropical

Mexico, Central America, the whole of South America including the Amazonian

and Andean fauna, the Caribbean islands, the Falkland islands.

Afrotropical

Africa south and west of the Sahara, Ethiopia, Arabia, Madagascar, and the Seychelles.

Oriental

Nepal, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, southern China, the Philippines, Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi.

Australian

Australia, Timor, the Moluccas, Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand,

the Solomon Islands and other islands of the south Pacific.

 

 

Each region has its own characteristic butterfly fauna. Furthermore certain subfamilies are confined to specific regions, e.g. the Trapezitinae occur only in the Australian region, Poritiinae are restricted to the Oriental region, Pyrrhopyginae are exclusively neotropical, Lipteninae are restricted to Africa and Parnassiinae are found only in the Holarctic.

Most of the other subfamilies have representatives worldwide, although the Danainae, Heliconiinae, Riodininae, Satyrinae, Theclinae, Heteropterinae and certain others have much higher diversity in the Neotropics than elsewhere.

The Coliadinae, Pierinae and Nymphalinae include many species that are nomadic or migratory in behaviour, so these subfamilies tend to be more cosmopolitan.

The figures below have been collated by learnaboutbutterflies from resources listed at the bottom of the page, and should be read in conjunction with the notes beneath the table.

 
  World Holarctic region Neotropical region Afrotropical region Oriental region Australian region

HESPERIIDAE

4127

497

2365

525

570

174

Hesperiinae

2117

275

1039

321

395

87

Heteropterinae

180

9

138

33

0

0

Pyrginae

1474

200

992

152

130

14

Pyrrhopyginae

164

0

164

0

0

0

Trapezitinae

61

0

0

0

0

61

Megathyminae

55

12

33

0

0

0

Coeliadinae

76

0

0

19

45

12

PAPILIONIDAE

568

97

141

98

170

70

Papilioninae

547

80

140

98

170

70

Parnassiinae

17

17

0

0

0

0

Baroniinae

1

0

1

0

0

0

PIERIDAE

1036

158

339

188

160

191

Pseudopontinae

1

0

0

1

0

0

Coliadinae

226

75

69

13

54

15

Pierinae

753

78

219

174

106

176

Dismorphiinae

56

5

51

0

0

0

LYCAENIDAE

4507

575

1182

1680

586

484

Theclinae

2295

244

1061

519

381

90

Polyommatinae

1082

267

7

454

96

258

Lycaeninae

291

60

114

4

0

113

Poritiinae

30

0

0

0

30

0

Miletinae

159

2

0

73

64

20

Curetinae

17

2

0

0

14

1

Lipteninae

599

0

0

599

0

0

Liphyrinae

34

0

0

31

1

2

RIODINIDAE

1428

33

1324

15

34

23

Euselasiinae

172

0

172

0

0

0

Riodininae

1256

33

1152

15

34

23

NYMPHALIDAE

5978

864

2433

1458

891

332

Libytheinae

17

3

4

3

4

3

Nymphalinae

590

172

195

71

93

59

Heliconiinae

479

74

147

235

12

11

Argynnini

120

73

18

11

10

8

Heliconiini

72

0

72

0

0

0

Acraeini

287

1

57

224

2

3

Limenitidinae

1014

94

89

587

220

24

Biblidinae

331

2

266

31

25

7

Apaturinae

87

43

19

3

21

1

Charaxinae

392

8

110

179

80

15

Satyrinae

2279

460

1099

326

275

119

Morphinae

226

0

136

0

72

18

Morphini

42

0

42

0

0

0

Brassolini

94

0

94

0

0

0

Amathusiini

90

0

0

0

72

18

Danainae

563

8

368

23

89

75

Danaini

199

8

13

23

89

66

Ithomiini

355

0

355

0

0

0

Tellervini

9

0

0

0

0

9

TOTAL

17657

2224

7784

3964

2411

1274

 

The totals above are distorted because surveys of various subfamilies, genera and zoogeographical regions have used differing methodology. Also taxonomists often tend to disagree about whether any particular taxon is a full species or merely a subspecies or form.

 

Estimates of the number of currently described species therefore vary between 17000-19000. The true total will never be known because many species will have become extinct even before they are discovered, but taxonomists estimate that at least another 1100 species await discovery in the neotropical region alone !

 

A further 50 are likely to be discovered in the Asian part of the Holarctic, 150 in the Oriental region, and probably another 50 in Irian Jaya & Papua New Guinea, which are part of the Australian region. In Africa alone, the new number of known species has jumped by 366 in the last 12 years to reach a 2007 total of 3964, and will certainly jump by at least another 200 species within the next decade.

 

DNA analysis will probably result in at least another 300 species being uncovered, i.e. separated from amongst existing species in collections. Another 200 species could be discovered as a result of breeding experiments. A good example of this is the case of the apparently identical Pierids, Colias alfacariensis & C. hyale, which were thought to be the same species until Berger discovered distinct differences in the larvae and pupae.

 

Taking all the above factors into account it is reasonable to estimate that the eventual world total could exceed 21,000 butterfly species.

 

The total number of moths is much more difficult to estimate, as vast numbers still await discovery, particularly among the so called Microlepidoptera. A figure of 500,000 is certainly within reason.

 
 
Sources include : Tolman ( 1997 ), Larsen ( 1991, 2005 ), Lamas ( 2004 ), McCubbin ( 1971 ), Preston-Mafham ( 1988 ), d'Abrera ( 2001 ), Scott ( 1992 ), Eliot / Corbet & Pendlebury ( 1992 ), Shields ( 1989 ), Ackery ( 1995 ), Hoskins ( unpublished data ).

 

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