Many NZ butterflies have not been accurately identified. Most people seem to think there are two butterflies in NZ: the monarch and the cabbage white … but that’s not so. We could have more than 50 species and some are already on the endangered list.
The NZ copper butterflies are remarkable for being the only relatives of common Palearctic (European and North American) coppers to occur in the Southern Hemisphere. This type of copper butterfly is absent from Australia, South Africa, or South America. Yet here in NZ we have coppers that are virtually indistinguishable from those of Europe. A real biogeographic puzzle!
The European coppers overwinter as small caterpillars in a dormant state. NZ coppers likewise overwinter in a dormant state (diapause) but with an important difference - in NZ about a third of the developing caterpillars continue growing slowly through the winter. They can emerge during winter or very early spring, depending on how deciduous the particular Muehlenbeckia foodplant is. In other words they are uniquely adapted to our oceanic climate, which lacks the extremes of the northern hemisphere winter where all plants are deciduous.
Every New Zealander has the right to know how special our species are … and we want to engage the right person to do the research, using DNA and other techniques, to identify them accurately. We could discover some treasures! The Butterfly Discovery Project will start by investigating NZ’s largest group of butterflies, the copper butterflies, currently lumped into four groups (the Lycaenas). There could, in fact, be more than 20 individual species just with the coppers.
Taxonomy is a very important and critical science: discovering, classifying and naming organisms so that we can better understand them and restore their habitats. Sir David Attenborough knows it, and as Ruud Kleinpaste says, 'if we can’t identify them how can we save them from extinction?'
Herein lies the problem. We need to do the research to find out … and research requires funding. If you love NZ, if you love our endemic species, even a few dollars will help us reach our goal. You can be a part of this! Please support this project by donating to our Givealittle page.