Larry Pitts

The Butterfly Effect !

What is the rarest butterfly in Australia?

The Purple Copper butterfly – Paralucia spinifera, is one of Australia’s rarest butterfly species and is found around the Lithgow, Bathurst and Oberon areas at elevations above 900 metres.

These tiny little insects have a VERY unusual life cycle.

The butterfly’s lifecycle relies on a mutualistic relationship with a small ant – Anonychomyrma itinerans , and a food source of a very special type of blackthorn bush – Bursaria spinosa.

The ants can be seen patrolling the blackthorn bush during the period it takes for the butterfly’s eggs to hatch. As the caterpillars start to mature, the ants continue to guard them from predators, taking them into their underground nests at the bottom of the plant during the day before taking them back out at night to feast on the blackthorn’s leaves!

In return, the ants are provided with a sugary honeydew that is secreted by a gland on the back of the caterpillar.

In this amazing relationship, these tiny, hard-working guards continue to watch over their much larger charges as the fully-grown caterpillars return to the ants’ nest to pupate, before they emerge around nine months later as beautiful copper-winged butterflies.

Butterflies act as pollinators and are also an important indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Your best chance of spotting one of these little insects is on a warm cloudless day in late August and early September.

Recently we had a visit from the Senior Land Services Officer for our Local Land Service, Huw Evans. Huw gave us some great brochures with information on how we can all help save our Purple Copper Butterfly! Community interest and involvement is one of the keys in saving this tiny colourful butterfly.

If you would like to be a Citizen scientist and join the “Counting Coppers” program, pop in to the Visitors Centre for a brochure and a free bookmark and we can show you how you can help in the Saving our Species program!

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