One of New Zealand’s most spectacular butterflies is silently slipping away, and trampers might be able to help save it.
The endemic forest ringlet is the only butterfly in its family, but its inexplicable decline has scientists worried.
In the last decade, the butterfly has disappeared from the Auckland and Wellington regions, amongst other habitats, and nobody knows why.
Moths and Butterflies of NZ Trust secretary Jacqui Knight said scientists simply don’t know enough about the species to make sound conservation plans.
“When people ask about kiwi, there are lots of facts and figures to draw on as they have been studied for many years,” she said.
“Until the trust was formed, and we started spreading the word about butterflies and moths, only a few people knew about the forest ringlet, and the information was not being shared.”
The trust hopes trampers will be able to help locate the butterfly in areas where previously they weren’t known to exist, thereby helping scientists to understand more about their habitat.
Once discovered, the trust plans to transfer specimens to safe locations to breed and study them.
Knight said the forest ringlet is a completely unique species and to lose it would be tragic.
“There are very few, and this butterfly is only found in New Zealand. It’s the only one of its species, and it has no close relatives,” she said.
As its name suggests, the forest ringlet is a forest-dwelling butterfly found from sea level to above the treeline.
It has a wingspan of 44-50mm and colonies have been found in forest glades on the Southern Alps, in Northland, Waikato, and throughout the North Island’s major mountain ranges.
Trampers can report sightings to www.mb.org.nz.