Staff Profiles

Dr. James S. Miller

Research Associate, Lepidoptera

  • Research Interests

    Research Interests

      I study moths in the Noctuoidea, the largest superfamily in the Lepidoptera with an estimated 60,000 described species. My research addresses general issues in taxonomy, biodiversity, phylogeny, and historical ecology. For the past several years I have focused on one noctuoid group in particular, the Neotropical Dioptinae, containing 456 described species. Dioptines, a derived clade within the family Notodontidae or prominent moths (3,500 species worldwide), are fascinating for several reasons: First, whereas other notodontids are nocturnal and cryptic, dioptines are diurnal and brightly colored. Second, their caterpillars specialize in feeding on toxic plants, such as nightshades (Solanum) and passionflowers (Passiflora). Other notodontids feed on trees, such as oaks and poplar; these typically do not contain toxins. The evolutionary origin of the Dioptinae is thus associated with basic changes in life style, from a nocturnal to a diurnal habit, and from feeding on non-toxic trees to feeding on toxic host plants. The group thus mirrors the evolution of butterflies. In a recent paper, I reclassified the genera of Dioptinae, the first such effort in nearly 100 years, in order to provide a taxonomic context for future evolutionary and biological research on the group. I am currently working on an NSF-funded project, documenting Lepidoptera life histories at a cloud forest site in eastern Ecuador.

  • Publications