From Science Daily:
Largest Butterfly In Western Hemisphere Needs Help To Avoid Extinction
Science Daily — The Homerus swallowtail is the Western Hemisphere’s largest butterfly, but University of Florida researchers say its numbers are so small that conservation and captive breeding efforts are needed to save the insect, found only in two parts of Jamaica.
A UF study published last month in The Journal of Insect Conservation was the first to estimate the population found in western Jamaica’s remote “Cockpit Country.” Author Matt Lehnert, a graduate student with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, found about 50 adults in the area.
The good news is the population was larger than expected, said Tom Emmel, a UF entomology professor who has helped rescue the endangered Schaus swallowtail and Miami blue butterflies native to Florida. Emmel is Lehnert’s graduate adviser.
“From a conservation standpoint, it shows there’s more than one viable population left for this magnificent swallowtail,” said Emmel, who directs UF’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
But the population isn’t large enough to withstand illegal collection or rampant development, he said.
With a 6-inch wingspan, only a few butterflies in the world are bigger. The largest is Papua New Guinea’s Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, which has a 14-inch wingspan.
The Homerus is black with yellow bands and red and blue spots. It once inhabited seven of Jamaica’s 13 provinces, but as land was cleared for coffee plantations and farmland it disappeared from most.
Few people live in the rugged Cockpit Country, but deforestation and bauxite mining could destroy the butterfly’s habitat, said Lehnert, now pursuing a doctorate in entomology at UF.
Jamaica adopted the butterfly as a symbol of its only national park, established partly to protect its other Homerus population, on the island’s east side, Emmel said. The eastern population, which has fewer than 50 adults, is more accessible and more widely studied. Emmel believes Cockpit Country should house a second national park.
See also here.
- New Jamaica butterfly species emphasizes need for biodiversity research (esciencenews.com)
- New Jamaica butterfly species emphasizes need for biodiversity research (eurekalert.org)
- Red Helen Butterfly (Papilio helenus) (raxacollective.wordpress.com)
- Taiwan’s butterfly pioneer laments threat to species (gulfnews.com)
- Are collectors the key to saving the giant butterfly? (asopa.typepad.com)