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Long-lost butterfly rediscovered on Kangaroo Island

News release
11 December 2014

Last year Colin Wilson was walking in a remote part of Flinders Chase National Park when a pair of mating butterflies landed near his feet. A flash of iridescent blue caught his eye so he snapped a photo and emailed it to Richard Glatz, a local insect specialist, to see if he could find out what it was.

Richard responded with some excitement that the photo might herald the re-discovery of the long-lost Eastern Large Bronze Azure butterfly, not seen on Kangaroo Island since 1934, but without an actual specimen he couldn’t be sure.

This species is thought to have quite a bizarre life cycle. Females lay their eggs directly into the entrance of nests of a particular species of ant. The ants tend the caterpillars which repay the kindness of their hosts by eating their young. Not your ideal house guests, but the ants don’t seem to notice.

Exactly one year after the lucky photo was taken, members of Friends of Parks KI Western Districts volunteered to act as butterfly spotters to help Richard and fellow insect enthusiast Andy Young see if they could nab some specimens to solve the mystery.

We got to our base camp on Friday evening to discover that Richard and Andy, who had arrived earlier in the day to reconnoitre the area, had already captured two male butterflies and decided that they were indeed the missing species. The lost had been found!

On Saturday morning we headed out with mounting excitement, armed with butterfly nets and sharp eyes, to see if we could add some female butterflies to the collection.

As we were to find out, they fly swiftly and erratically and it is incredibly hard to follow them in flight. Even with a dozen pairs of eyes trying to track their movements, they would simply disappear in one spot magically reappearing many metres away.

It was a bit like a fishing trip: you should have seen the ones that got away! But eventually Graeme spotted another one, everybody fanned out to cover any escape and Andy moved in. This time it was success and a female to boot.

Richard will now get a DNA profile of the butterfly to answer the most interesting question: is it a sub-species of similar butterflies found on the mainland, or is it a completely separate species found only on KI?

Let’s hope it’s the latter. Ogyris colinwilsoni has a nice ring to it.

For more information about the butterfly please contact Dr Richard Glatz, D'Estrees Entomology & Science Services , Email : richard@dess.net.au Mobile: 0419843254.

By Colin Wilson Friends of Parks KI Western Districts