New species of butterfly flying in Northern Ireland

Neil Jones neil at
Wed Jul 13 11:32:51 EDT 2011

  New species of butterfly flying in Northern Ireland

Cryptic wood white revealed as annual Big Butterfly Count is launched

    * Patrick Barkham <>
    * <>, Wednesday 13 July 2011
      16.18 BST
    * Article history

      The cryptic wood white has been seen in Northern Ireland, but not
      in Great Britain. Photograph: Butterfly Conservation

      A new species of butterfly previously unknown to science has been
      discovered flying in Northern Ireland

      The cryptic wood white looks exactly the same as both the Réals
      wood white and the wood white, a delicate and increasingly rare
      insect found in English woodlands in summer.

      But scientists have discovered it is in fact a unique species that
      has far more chromosomes, different DNA and genetically is 70,000
      years old -- far older than the two other species.

      "It's a very exciting discovery. We are going to have to rewrite
      the butterfly books," said Martin Warren, chief executive of
      Butterfly Conservation <>.

      The discovery comes as the charity launches the world's largest
      count of butterflies
      <>, the Big
      Butterfly Count, encouraging everyone to spend 15 minutes on a
      sunny day between 16 July and 31 July recording all the
      butterflies they spot in their garden, park or nearby countryside.
      Last year 10,000 people in the UK downloaded free identification
      guides and submitted sightings of 189,000 butterflies online at <>.

      Sir David Attenborough
      the president of Butterfly Conservation, said butterflies rarely
      visited his suburban garden any more and the count was crucial to
      understand how and why butterflies were in decline.

      "I saw one peacock in my garden last year and that was a big day
      for me. I've even got to the stage where I welcome cabbage whites.
      They lift the heart but they are also crucial to the survival of
      British wildlife <>
      -- for the birds that feed on their caterpillars and for
      pollinating flowers. If my heart is not going to be lifted by a
      butterfly because they've gone, my life is going to be much the

      The count is being funded by Marks & Spencer
      <> with the retailer filling the
      breach left by an 85% cut in Butterfly Conservation's funding from
      Natural England <>, the
      government's conservation body, which is shedding 800 staff in the
      public sector cuts.

      As well as providing crucial information on common butterflies
      suffering steep declines, including the small tortoiseshell and
      the meadow brown, the information submitted by butterfly lovers
      could help solve other mysteries in the butterfly world -- and
      find more cryptic species, which are so called because they are
      identical to existing species and therefore hidden within them.

      The cryptic wood white, which has the scientific name of /Leptidea
      juvernica,/ was discovered by Spanish and Russian scientists who
      identified the new species across a swath of central Europe,
      including Germany, Romania and Northern Ireland.

      Mysteriously, it does not occur in Great Britain, where the wood
      white is one of our most endangered species.

      For the last 10 years in Northern Ireland the cryptic wood white
      was believed to be the Réal's wood white, another so-called
      cryptic species which was only discovered in Europe in 1988.

      The cryptic wood white and Real's wood white differ from the wood
      white found in Britain in one important aspect: the males have
      much larger genitalia, leading to the nickname "long-willied wood
      white" in Northern Ireland.

      Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation said the discovery was
      important because it helped conservationists understand the
      distribution of rare insects
      <> and which species
      should be a conservation priority. "The fact that there have been
      two species hiding within the wood white is exciting," said Fox.
      "It also begs the question of what else is out there?"

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