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The Butterfly Project

The Butterfly Project

The Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust has embarked on a nationwide project to measure that butterfly population – find out more at Russell's Environmental Expo, Saturday 5 August at 11am.

"The project has two arms," said Jacqui Knight. "We are encouraging people to tag Monarch butterflies, and to walk 'transects', a regular walk on sunny days, counting the butterflies they see.

Butterflies are pollinators and critical to our food chain.

For some years in the UK, Europe and North America, people have been measuring the butterfly population, and have noticed declines in the population which they attribute to development, global warming and pollution.

British lepidopterist Nigel Venters says that our native Red Admiral is the most beautiful in the world. How come it's not well known?

Here in NZ we have a poor awareness of our butterflies - apart from the Cabbage White and the Monarch. Scientists think there are about 100 species of butterfly - but no-one knows for sure! How will we know if our butterfly species are diminishing unless we know them?

Transects will involve committing to a regular walk (good for our health too!) whereby we will note down any butterflies we see within a certain area as we walk. Then we will log these into the website and it will build up a pattern as to where, for instance, our beautiful Admiral butterflies can be found. Similarly Rauparaha's Copper and the Boulder butterflies. Also, the butterflies that are blown here from Australia usually in late Summer.

In future years additional data from these same walks will show any movement in the population(s).

While not as good pollinators as bees, butterflies are colourful and delight the eye. Everyone notices a butterfly and comments on it. Watching the Monarchs in the grounds of Christ Church, in Russell, it's obvious that people find them spiritually uplifting as well.

"Monarchs are considered native to NZ because they came here under their own power in the mid 1800s," said Jacqui. "But, again, no-one knows what happens to them in the winter. Once there were huge overwintering colonies at a small bay near Kaeo, called Butterfly Bay. When I saw them flying around their host trees in the 1970s there were so many, they looked like ash from a bonfire on a windy day - or Autumn leaves scattered by a gust of wind."

When we counted Monarchs there last winter, we found about twenty.

We don't know what has happened, but the Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust is working on finding out, and how we can rectify any loss of habitat there.


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