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Following the tales: The Jonah's Ricinus biblical worms, Olepa schleini in Israel a local relict or an invasive alien species

Aparna Sureshchandra Kalawate; K. P. Dinesh

The members of the moth genus Olepa were described from the South and South Asian countries (Indomalayan realm). In 2005, a new species of moth O. schleini Wit, Müller, Kravchenko, Miller, Hausmann & Speidel, 2005 was described from Israel extending the geographical range of the genus to the Palearctic realm considering the species as a Paleo-Tropical relic. In 2006, this moth species was assumed to be Jonah’s worm mentioned in Jonah’s book 2500 years ago with the proposal of ‘Critically Endangered’ status. In 2012, the above status and rediscovery of ‘Jonah’s worm’ were put for debate, as the host plant castor is not native to Israel. In early 2020, the same species and its subspecies were reported from peninsular India with genetic data indicating the possible introduction of the species from India to Israel. The recent three new species descriptions of Olepa moth with phylogenetic data from peninsular India supports the studies of 2012 and ascertains the possible introduction of the species from India to Israel. Discussions are made on the agricultural history of Israel and the reason for such disjunct distribution of the species O. schleini from Israel and India.

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