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Rare butterfly sighted on remote island

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Rare butterfly sighted on remote island!

The forest ringlet appears to be thriving on Te Hauturu-o-Toi or Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf

The Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust embarked on a project this summer, to save the endemic butterfly, which was on the ‘severe decline’ species list.

Steve Wheatley, a senior conservation specialist from Butterfly Conservation in England, travelled throughout the country documenting known locations and sightings of Dodonidia helmsii, thanks to a grant from Lottery’s Environment and Heritage Funds.

“But no-one mentioned Little Barrier,” said Jacqui Knight, Community Liaison for the MBNZT. “I was at a meeting of the Auckland Zoological Society and a woman there mentioned she’d seen five in one day’s tramp – and showed me a photograph she took of the beautiful butterfly.”

A funding grant from Lottery Environment and Heritage enabled the project which is being directed by Dr Peter Maddison. The former president of Forest & Bird, entomologist Dr Maddison was the scientist who first identified painted apple moth in Auckland in 1999, an invasive species that has now been eradicated.

“Declining numbers [of forest ringlets] were first observed during the1990’s,” says Maddison, “and it is thought that vespulid wasps were likely to be involved. But without knowing specifically what is happening, we cannot address the cause.”

The distinctive orange, black, white and yellow butterfly was once widespread in forests throughout New Zealand but has now declined to a few remote areas. It has been a long time since the rare butterfly was seen in the Auckland and Wellington regions. The species is only found in this country and has no close relatives.

Dr George Gibbs, entomologist at Wellington’s Victoria University and author of Ghosts of Gondwana confirmed that the island is ‘the disconnected north end of the Coromandel Range’ and possibly why they were thriving there.

“They are classified as ‘at risk’,” agreed Eric Edwards, science advisor for the Department of Conservation. “This is an important find, possibly the most significant event for Little Barrier Island in five years.”

He felt that the rodent-free status plus Vespula species wasp numbers are low make sthe site worthy of further study.

The forest ringlet lives in forest glades, from near sea-level to the treeline, and is usually found in late summer when they fly high in the forest canopy. Females can also be seen on or near sedges, rush-like plants, where they lay their eggs.

Ends

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