Jennifer Zaspel, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor, Entomology
Previously Associate Professor and Director of Purdue Entomological Research Collection (PERC)

PhD, 2008, University of Florida
MS, 2004, University of Minnesota
BS, 2001, University of Minnesota

My lab investigates the evolutionary origins of butterflies and moths in order to better understand their feeding behaviors, mating strategies and chemical communication. We use metabolomic, genomic, and transcriptomic approaches to reconstruct phylogenetic trees for species that feed on a broad range of hosts such as fungi, lichens, toxic plants, and vertebrates. My program also investigates the molecular and environmental mechanisms that influence host switching in adult moths that are both pests of fruit and pierce mammalian skin to feed on blood. We conduct domestic and international fieldwork in order to collect samples for molecular, morphological and behavioral research. The specimen-based portion of my research program involves revisionary systematics, specimen informatics and digitization. I am also the Director of the Purdue Entomological Research Collection, which houses over 2 million insect specimens. My program is highly involved in advanced digitization of these specimens, which will allow members of the scientific and public communities to explore PERC holdings and accelerate biodiversity research and discovery.

Current Research Projects
  • Molecular systematics of tiger and vampire moths using anchored hybrid enrichment
  • Molecular evolution of odorant systems in fruit and blood-feeding moths using next generation sequencing approaches
  • Deep phylogeny and metabolomics of lichen-feeding tiger moths
  • Functional morphology of the piercing proboscis in vampire moths
  • Molecular evolution of detoxification in tiger moths using next generation sequencing approaches
  • Phylogeography and host-switching evolution in fruit and blood-feeding moths
  • Chemical ecology and behavior in the lichen-feeding tiger moth Crambidia cephalica and in the vampire moth Calyptra thalictri
  • Differential gene expression patterns in fruit vs. blood feeding moths in the genus Calyptra
  • Evolution of chemical and acoustic signaling in tiger moths
Long-term Research Goals
  • Development of new anchored, functional and anonymous molecular loci for evolutionary analysis of Lepidoptera
  • Determine genetic and environmental underpinnings of blood feeding behaviors in fruit and blood-feeding moths
  • Determine evolutionary origins of detoxification pathways and acoustic communication in tiger moths
  • Reconstruct evolutionary histories of fruit and blood-feeding moths using reduced representation (RR) library approaches in order to establish an evolutionary framework for investigating the evolution of facultative blood feeding by a plant-piercing insect.
Recent Publications
  • Zaspel, J.M., C.H. Scott, S.R. Hill, V.S. Kononenko, Ignell, R., & Weller, S.J. Geographic distribution, phylogeny and genetic diversity of the fruit and blood feeding moth Calyptra thalictri Borkhausen (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Erebidae). In Press: Journal of Parasitology.
  • Zaspel, J.M., Weller S.J., C.T. Wardwell, R. Zahiri & Wahlberg, N. 2014. Phylogeny and evolution of pharmacophagy in tiger moths (Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Arctiinae). PLoS One.
  • Scott, C.H., Zaspel, J.M., Chialvo, P., & Weller, S.J. 2014. A preliminary molecular phylogenetic assessment of the lichen moths (Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Arctiinae: Lithosiini) with comments on palatability and chemical sequestration. Systematic Entomology 39(2): 286-303.
  • Zaspel, J.M., S. Coy, K. Habanek, & Weller, S.J. 2013. Presence and distribution of sensory structures on the mouthparts of self-medicating moths. Zoologischer Anzeiger 253: 6-10.
  • Zaspel, J.M., Zahiri, R., Janzen, D., Hoy, M.A., Weller, S.J. & Wahlberg, N. 2012. A molecular phylogenetic analysis of the vampire moths and their fruit-piercing relatives (Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Calpinae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 65: 786-793.
  • Zaspel, J.M., Weller, S.J., & Branham, M.A. 2011. A comparative survey of proboscis morphology and associated structures in fruit-piercing, tear-feeding and blood-sucking moths in the subfamily Calpinae (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Zoomorphology 130: 203-225.
  • Hill, S.R., Zaspel, J.M., Weller, S.J., Hansson, B.S., & Ignell, R. 2010. To be or not to be… a vampire: a matter of sensilla numbers in Calyptra thalictri? Arthropod Structure and Development 39: 322-333.
  • ENTM 596 Systematics and Phylogenetic Methods, 506 Advanced Insect Taxonomy

Dr. Jennifer Zaspel