Na­tion­wide search for na­tive butterfly

Auckland City Harbour News - - SITUATIONS VACANT - JAMES PASLEY

A na­tion­wide hunt has be­gun to save a rare na­tive New Zealand butterfly with no close rel­a­tives.

The hunt is the first step in a long term project headed by Moths and But­ter­flies of New Zealand Trust to im­prove the na­tive for­est ringlet but­ter­flys’ bleak fu­ture.

Steve Wheat­ley, a se­nior con­ser­va­tion spe­cial­ist from Butterfly Con­ser­va­tion in Eng­land, has been brought half­way across the world to tour New Zealand gath­er­ing records about past and present lo­ca­tions of the butterfly.

The dis­tinc­tive orange, black, white and yel­low butterfly was once found through­out New Zealand’s forests, but has now de­clined to a few re­mote ar­eas.

The butterfly was named be­cause of dis­tinc­tive tar­get-like rings or ‘eyes’ on its wings.

It tends to live and fly high in for­est glades, from near sea-level to the tree line. Fe­males can be seen on or near grass-like plants, where they lay their eggs.

Eric Ed­wards, sci­ence ad­vi­sor for the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion said they are clas­si­fied as ’at risk’.

There is no def­i­nite cause be­hind the butterfly’s de­cline, but Jac­qui Knight, sec­re­tary of the Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust, said that once they can es­tab­lish ar­eas where the butterfly has left they can draw con­clu­sions.

‘‘We can cor­re­late that in­for­ma­tion against other plants that have dis­ap­peared or against wasps that are ap­pear­ing and then work out why butterfly num­bers have fallen,’’ Knight said.

‘‘If we can find out why they’re re­treat­ing there’s a good chance we can save them.’’

Dr Peter Mad­di­son, for­mer pres­i­dent of For­est & Bird, said de­clin­ing num­bers of for­est ringlets was first ob­served dur­ing the 1990s.

‘‘It is thought that wasps were likely to be in­volved. But with­out know­ing specif­i­cally what is hap­pen­ing, we can­not ad­dress the cause,’’ Mad­di­son said.

Knight said all New Zealan­ders can help the search by con­tact­ing the trust if they spot the ringlet butterfly.

‘‘Not many peo­ple know it ex­ists. Tram­pers in the bush might see them and not even re­alise.

‘‘We’re hop­ing if peo­ple are more aware of what they’re look­ing for we’ll have a bet­ter chance of find­ing them.

‘‘I’ve still never seen one, but I would like to.’’

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