Nationwide search for native butterfly
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.’’