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Phyciodes incognitus (Butterflies)

Phyciodes incognitus is treated as a subspecies of P. cocyta in Pelham (2008) (1) and this status is unchanged in his 2017 revision (2). There is some controversy in that Scott (2014:1-26) treated diminutor as a full species with incognitus as a synonym. Pelham (pers. comm. 7/5/2017) does not dismiss Scott (2014) but advises that treating diminutor as a subspecies is in his opinion better supported given the current lack of corroboration of Scott's treatment. Both Pelham and Scott agree that incognitus should not be given full species status. I am not aware of any experts who think incognitus should remain a valid species though there may be.

I have documented this issue on the Info page for Phyciodes incognitus here but will not change the taxonomic status just yet to give others an opportunity to weigh in on this.

Phyciodes incognitus
Current treatment of P. incognitus rests on early treatment by Scott (2006 - Papilio New Series #13). Scott himself (2014 - Papilio New Series #23) states that he "assigned incognitus to P. diminutor because of its bivoltinism and because it belongs in the P. cocyta-group and not with tharos." The original treatment by Gatrelle (2004 - The Taxonomic Report #4(8) specifically addressed the relationship of incognitus to cocyta (diminutor) and tharos. Gatrelle, under the section Independent Analysis stated that 12 specimens were sent to Niklas Wahlberg for mtDNA sequencing, and "Wahlberg determined these specimens as P. tharos regardless of their larger size, different phenotype, different morphology, and sympatry." Photos of the same specimens were sent to Scott for his assessment and "Scott determined these same specimens as P. cocyta." [!!] Gatrelle goes on to say that "without any other data, their conclusions (while opposite) would both be considered correct from the limited perspective of single tool analysis. But when assessed with multi tool analysis, this taxon was evidenced to be neither species cocyta or tharos - thus exposing both single-tool based conclusions as incorrect."

Given that Scott's conclusion (that incognitus is a subspecies of diminutor) was based entirely on superficial resemblance of both species (though incognitus is considerably larger and more heavily-patterned) and that bivoltinism automatically makes them the same species, I reject Scott's conclusion. Pelham (2008) simply followed Scott's lead because Scott published what amounts to a revision of Phyciodes in North America. However, I see a serious flaw in Scott's conclusion on incognitus.

Before anyone makes a final determination on how to treat incognitus, I suggest reading Gatrelle (2004), then Scott (2006), then Scott (2014) and then go back and reread Gatrelle's Independent Analysis and make a decision.

Also, note, Scott included orange-antenna taxon orantain with P. tharos as a subspecies. Scott crossed orantain with "cocyta" and obtained viable offspring. This would indicate that orantain is more likely a subspecies of cocyta, not tharos. In light of many doubts that I have over Scott's Phyciodes revisions (though I do respect Scott's conclusions to considerable extent), a thorough re-evaluation of all types, descriptions, and populations cries out for an independent (third) party review.

Thank You
Thanks for the follow up comments. This came up when I was updating MPG. I added a comment in the Remarks section on the Info Page for this species to let editors know that there does remain controversy and that this forum entry should be considered should change be entertained. Although MPG will follow Pelham's treatment, I have left this species as is at BugGuide. Hopefully someone will eventually sort this all out and publish a peer-reviewed work.

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