Butterfly brought back from brink of extinction in UK

The butterfly project has been almost 40 years in the making in the UK. The large blue butterfly—or…
blue butterfly in the UK

The butterfly project has been almost 40 years in the making in the UK.

The large blue butterfly—or Phengaris arion—used to be a common sighting in the UK. But in 1979, the species was declared extinct in Britain.

Rodborough Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Gloucestershire in the southwest of England. Here, large blues haven’t been present for 150 years.

But last year, conservationists released 1,100 larvae in Rodborough Common. Now, there are about 750 of the butterflies flitting through the site.

You can spot a large blue by looking for the black dots on their wings. Their wingspan stretches upwards of two inches, and they are, naturally, blue.

The butterflies were declared extinct in the UK more than 40 years ago.
A large blue butterfly (Sarah Meredith)

Conservationists have been working on reintroducing the butterflies for nearly 40 years. They spent the last five years preparing the site prior to the larvae release. These conservation experts are an impressive team from a number of sources.

They come “from the National Trust, Butterfly Conservation, the Limestone’s Living Legacies Back from the Brink project, Natural England, Royal Entomological Society and the Minchinhampton and Rodborough Committees of Commoners.”

Part of the preparation before the release had to do with the red ant population in the area. The red ants play an important role in the life cycle of the large blue.

A research ecologist named David Simcox explained this role:

In the summer when the ants are out foraging, nature performs a very neat trick — the ants are deceived into thinking that the parasitic larva of the large blue is one of their own and carry it to their nest. It’s at this point that the caterpillar turns from herbivore to carnivore, feeding on ant grubs throughout the autumn and spring until it is ready to pupate and emerge the following summer.

David Simcox

The conservationists also prepared by managing areas where cattle could graze and areas of scrub cover at the site. They also grew more marjoram and wild thyme. These plants provide large blues with both food and a place to lay eggs.

It’s great news that the butterflies have not only survived this summer but also appear to have a “stronghold” now at “core sites” throughout England. The current results look promising for a future of thriving large blue butterfly populations.

Article source: CNN

Featured image source: David Simcox

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