Porphyrophora ham melii Brandt, 1833


Status. A rare and endemic species of restricted distribution and decreasing population. According to IUCN criteria categorized as Critically Endangered CR B1b(i,ii,iii)+2ab(i,ii,iii). The species is listed in the Red Data Book of the former USSR.

Brief description. Sexual dimorphism is very distinct. The adult female is wingless, ovoid, dark cherry coloured, slow–moving and small (the length of the body is 2–12 mm, weight is 2–100 mg). The body is segmented but not clearly divided into the head, thorax and abdomen. The legs are short and poorly developed. Eyes are simple, antennae are divided into 11–12 segments. The male differs from the female in size (the length of the body is 2–4,5 mm, weight is 0,6–3,4 mg). The body is clearly split into the head, thorax and abdomen, with the thorax having one pair of wings with dark red edge. Males have compound faceted large eyes and antennae consist of 13 segments. The legs are long, adapted to relatively fast moving. The body is dark scarlet. Two bunches of long waxen silver filaments exceeding the body length by 2–2.5 times protrude from the dorsal part of the end of the body.

Distribution. An endemic species of the Ararat Valley.

Distribution in Armenia. The species is distributed in patchy parts of the Ararat Valley’s salt marshes in the Ararat and Armavir provinces. In the mid–20th century the range size was 10000 ha. By the 1990s it shrank to the area of 2000 ha represented by several small (up to several hectares) and two relatively large parcels in the vicinities of the Arazap village (200 ha) and Jrarat village (17 ha) in the Armavir Province neighbour.

Habitats. Inhabits saline lands covered with fodder plants.

Biological traits. A vegetarian oligophagous species feeding only on plants of two genera: Aeluropus and Phragmites. Larvae come out from April to May, move up to the surface of the ground, find the fodder plant and feed till August to September. During the whole feeding period the larvae are attached to the plant. In late May larvae molt and form the cysts. Beginning from the second half of September male larvae, looking like female larvae but much smaller in size, start to come out from some cysts. Some time later they move back to the soil and form the chrysalis nymphs. During this period female larvae keep feeding and growing in the cysts attached to the plants. Shortly after coming out of the cysts females move up to the surface of the ground and wait for males. After transformation, adult males remain in the soil for some days to allow for gradual development of their wings. Having become movable, males move to the surface. The mass coming out of adult males and females occurs from September to mid–October in the early morning at 6:00–11:00 AM. This process includes copulation after which males die. Fertilized females dig into the soil, at the depth 1–5 cm make the unique silky cocoons from fine wax filaments, lay their eggs in the cocoons, and die. Eggs are left to winter.

Population size and its trends. Abundance within the distribution sites is high, but the population has generally dwindled following the range shrinkage.

Major threats. Intensive development of saline lands, ameliorative works, land privatization, uncontrolled grazing. Given the species characteristics (limited and fragmented range surrounded by agricultural landscapes), climate change might have been a serious factor threatening the species existence. Changes of hydrological regime inside the range and agricultural lands may lead to habitat loss and further decline of the insect population.

Conservation measures. In 1986, Vordan Karmir Sanctuary was established specifically for protection of this species. Artificial methods of insect breeding are worked out.

Suggested conservation measures. Enforcement of habitat protection.


© G. Karagyan  

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Mktchyan, Sarkisov, 1985; Sarkisov and other, 1991

Compiler. H. Khachatryan