New butterfly species discovered during internship

August 3rd, 2021
Cyme laeta Looijenga 2021, a newly described species of butterfly

The butterfly species Cyme reticulata, which is found in Papua New Guinea, has many different morphological variations. Research has revealed that one of the variations is a different and previously undescribed species. Student Noortje Looijenga (18) from Aeres MBO (vocational training college) in Ede described this new species of butterfly during her graduation internship at Naturalis. Rob de Vos is the collection manager of the four million species of butterfly at Naturalis and does research into the butterflies of New Guinea. These include the species Cyme reticulata, which has many different morphological variants. Are the butterflies from the same species but with different looks, or are they actually different species?

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Naturalis is the Netherlands' national museum of natural history.


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Twee vlinders. Links Cyme reticulata, rechts C. laeta
The two butterflies Cyme reticulata on the left, the newly minted C. laeta on the right

MBO student (post-secondary vocational education) Noortje Looijenga set to work on the puzzle and ultimately established that the genitals of some of the butterflies are so different that they must be of a different species. She described and published this in the journal Suara Serangga Papua. The full name of the species is Cyme laeta Looijenga 2021; the name of the one who described the species comes after the species name. Cyme because it is family of the already known Cyme species. Looijenga: “Laeta is Latin for happy, surprised, colorful and rich in contrast. Of course, this refers to my joy upon discovering this new species. Moreover, Cyme laeta is slightly more strongly colored than their sister species Cyme reticulata.”



"Noortje Looijenga is a driven student who, through her passion and perseverance, has achieved something that is normally only reserved for professional researchers or university students. That she had to do this internship in the hindering corona time is extra special; it didn't stop her from getting it into a proper species description. That's a great achievement!" Graduation supervisor Rob de Vos of Naturalis is, in short, very proud.

The name of the magazine means 'Voice of the Papuan insects'. The editor-in-chief was a Franciscan monk, Brother Henk van Mastrigt. "He maintained an incredibly large and important collection of insects in Papua," says butterfly expert Rob de Vos. The magazine seemed doomed after Van Mastrigt's death, but the Dutch Papua Insects Foundation - of which De Vos is chairman - helped keep it afloat.

Noortje working
with the butterflies

Noortje working with the butterflies

come true

And Looijenga? After the summer holiday, she will continue with a degree in applied biology at Aeres University of Applied Sciences. “Insects, and in particular butterflies, have always been my passion. Two years ago, I also started to rear them myself to learn more about them. So this internship was a dream come true. I really enjoyed my time at Naturalis, and I’ve learned so much! During my degree, I want to develop my skills further so that hopefully I can later do the same work as Rob is doing now,” she says.