Moth Species Discovered Over 50 Years Ago Named After Cherokee Chief

Moth Species Discovered Over 50 Years Ago Named After Cherokee Chief

A new moth species, Cherokeea attakullakulla, first discovered in the Appalachian Mountains more than 50 years ago in 1953, owes its name to both the Cherokee people who originally inhabited Tennessee and North Carolina and a famous Cherokee chief, who had the same name. The Cherokee chief Attakullakulla lived in the region during the 1700s.

Chief Attakullakulla was so well-respected that he also was a diplomat representing the Cherokee nation who was sent to England. Chief Attakullakulla was one of six Cherokee ambassadors who journeyed to London in 1730 to represent the Cherokee Nation. He did his best to fight for the rights of the Cherokee Nation and he received the distinction and honor of being called the First Beloved Man of his tribe. The chief also traveled throughout the Carolinas negotiating various treaties.

Though Dr. John G. Franclemont, professor at Cornell University, discovered the Cherokeea attakullakulla moth in 1953 while examining insect species collected at the Highlands Biological Station, located in Macon County, North Carolina, the moth was not originally recognized as a new species. The moth did have some characteristics that made it look different from the other moth species that Franclemont collected, but apparently it looked similar enough to the other known moths he knew about that he did not realize it was a new species. That is why it was not named until recently.

Forty years later, the same moth species was noted and recorded by biologist Dr. J. Bolling Sullivan III. While collecting and studying moth species in the mountains of North Carolina, Sullivan caught some moths that later got the name Cherokeea attakullakulla. At the time, Sullivan, also, did not realize that the moths represented a new species.

It was only when Dr. Sullivan later joined forces with Dr. Eric Quinter, a retired entomologist who was surveying the moth population in the area, that the two scientists came to the conclusion that the moths represented a new species. They are the ones who decided to name the species after the Cherokee chief and tribe, and call them Cherokeea attakullakulla.

Dr. Quinter is grateful that much of the region where he took part in identifying and naming the new moth species “remains preserved as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” He wanted to immortalize “the memory of those who first settled there,” the Cherokee Nation. It is ironic that such “a tiny creature oblivious to it all,” would be given the name of a famous Cherokee chief and named to honor the Cherokee Nation, but it is one way to preserve the history of the region and of the Cherokee Nation.

Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Bill John Baker, thinks it is fitting to have an animal species named to honor the Cherokee Nation, because “the Cherokee people were always deeply connected to nature and the environment in our original homelands in the East.”

The Cherokeea attakullakulla moths are brownish white in color. Though they are somewhat drab in color, they represent one of the largest and most well-known tribes in North America, who have a colorful history — the Cherokees. The study written about their discovery and being named was recently published as a paper in the journal Zookeys.

The Cherokeea attakullakulla moths were not recognized and named until more than 50 years after they were first discovered, but for being such small creatures, their name carries the weight of honoring one of the largest tribes of Native Americans of the time, and one of their most famous chiefs. The Cherokee Nation has always had a reverence for animals and nature, and when Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Quinter named the new species of moths Cherokeea attakullakulla, it was their way to honor the tribe and the significance of Chief Attakullakulla.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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