80 Rare Butterflies Released to Spend their Short Lives in the Wild


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Until the 20th century, the Palos Verdes peninsula—a small spit of land south of Los Angeles—was the only home of the blue butterfly Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis. Unchecked development, however, eroded this small habitat and nearly caused the extinction of the fickle butterfly.

After years of work rebuilding the degraded ecosystem, conservationists released 80 Palos Verdes blue butterflies this week, in hopes that their efforts will help establish the third population in the wild since the species was rescued from the brink of extinction in 1994.The fingernail-sized butterfly lives for only a short time—between five and 10 days—and is finicky about where it will lay its eggs. Palos Verdes blue larvae will only eat two types of leaves, those of the locoweed and deerweed, requiring that a successful habitat must have a predominance of these plants.

Travis Longcore, science director of the Urban Wildlands Group, explained that conservationists "wanted to have the maximum probability of [the butterflies] getting mated." To increase the chances of this occurring, 80 captive-bred butterflies—60 males and 20 females—were released.

So far, these efforts have proven successful. In the three sites on the peninsula, the population of butterflies has risen from a low of 30 to as high as 282. Conservationists believe that establishing several small populations is the key to building a self-sustaining population.

Still, they expect it to take many more years—and several more such reintroductions—before the Palos Verdes blue can be removed from the endangered species list.

Read more about butterflies:
Beautiful Butterflies: Up Close With Nature's Canvases (Slideshow)
The Trials and Terrors of Insect Life as Captured by Marta Grzesiak (Slideshow)
Butterflies Not Coping Well With Double Whammy of Climate Change and Habitat Loss
How to Revive an Extinct Butterfly

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species | Insects