Can moth species be artificially hybridized?

I already know that two different species of moth left alone together won’t mate with each other due to species specific pheromones. But if someone where to take the sperm of a male moth of one species and the unfertilized eggs of a female moth of another species would it work? I’m not talking about hybridizing two very different kinds of moths like Saturniidae and Tortricidae.

I’m talking about hybridizing moths of the same genus i.e.
Lymantria monacha x Lymantria concolor

Or hybridization of a species with one of it’s subspecies i.e.
Lymantria dispar x Lymantria dispar dispar

Or heck, even hybridizing two of the subspecies of a species i.e.
Lymantria dispar dispar x Lymantria dispar japonica

I’m obviously not trying to create more species of Spongy moths to unleash on the world in some evil scheme. I’m just wondering if its actually possible.


Speciation is often a slow and continuous process, and whether two species can hybridize depends on how far down the speciation continuum them have gone. When two species/subspecies/populations are separated, their DNA will slowly accumulate incompatible mutations that can affect the viability or fertility of a hybrid when they come back together. Sometimes it takes millions of years, and sometimes only thousands of years before two species can no longer produce hybrids that survive to adulthood. So, certain combinations of moth will be possible, and others will not be possible. Others will produce hybrids that my survive but be very unhealthy or infertile. Generally, two subspecies of the same species should be able to interbreed by definition, otherwise they are better classified as separate species.

In rare cases, hybrids can even start their own lineage and eventually evolve into a new species. Plants do this a lot, but I’m not aware of any cases in moths.


That’d be correct for most species, but there are some species that will hybridize in nature. Here’s one example (journal article). Fig. 5 shows the contact zone where hybrids were found.


When I worked at Ag Canada many years ago, I believe there were two species of Euxoa that were very similar. In the lab, in a confined space, they would mate and lay eggs. In the wild, their pheromone releases were separated by a few weeks. We ran artificial pheromone traps which would routinely attract other species.
So, bottom line, I suspect in a confined area they might hybridize, but all sorts of cues go into moth mating besides just pheromones. Whether lab reared hybrids would survive and breed true if released I don’t know.


Butterfly and moth breeders often hand-pair to achieve mating if the species requires specific environmental conditions that are not available.

I recall a decade or so ago one person was publishing a fair bit on artificial hybrids between species of Saturniidae, but I can’t recall where.


I’m not sure subspecies “hybrids” are really hybrids at all. If they were, wouldn’t that mean that the subspecies were full species?

No, since subspecies are also taxa, and hybrids are crosses between taxa.

A hybrid is:

an offspring of two animals or plants of different subspecies, breeds, varieties, species, or genera

For example, many modern horticultural crops are F1 hybrids between selected clonal or non-clonal strains that have particularly sought-after characteristics. In this context the term is obviously not about moths, though.


I was thinking in terms of iNaturalist ID taxa; imagining someone creating a flag to request the creation of a taxon for Lymantria dispar dispar x Lymantria dispar japonica. Since some iNatters seem to be sticklers for IDing subspecies. Me? I would just call it Lymantria dispar and call it good.

Sure, we all have our way of doing things.

Personally, if I had more information that could be conveyed, I would choose to add it.

However the OP did not seem to be discussing iNat taxonomic concepts, rather whether moths can hybridise, or be artificially hybridised in general.

On a more general note, though, the biological species concept you espouse in:

works mostly OK for vertebrates, is rubbery in invertebrates, and does not at all apply in plants, which in many cases can quite happily produce fertile intergeneric hybrids.

It’s not true for iNat, we have a hybrid between two ssp. of Motacilla alba (one of whom is seen as a separate species outside of iNat), and this taxon was refused to be added, because there can’t be hybrids between ssp.! And we must id them as species only.

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