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Expedition finds butterfly bonanza in Bolivian national park (PHOTOS)

  • Identidad Madidi is currently in the midst surveying Madidi National Park’s diverse ecosystems for plants and animals.
  • The expedition has registered many new records for the park, including several species new to science.
  • Scientists on a multi-year expedition in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park have recorded nearly a thousand species of butterflies – with many more expected to come.

Scientists on a multi-year expedition in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park have recorded nearly a thousand species of butterflies – with many more expected to come.

Madidi National Park sits along Bolivia’s northern border with Peru. Referred to as potentially the most biodiverse protected area in the world, Madidi spans a gamut of different landscapes – from lowland Amazon rainforest to the snowy peaks of the Andes and everything in between.

Despite being an ecologically important area, Madidi’s wildlife was never thoroughly surveyed. To remedy this, NGOs like the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Gordon and Betty More Foundation teamed up with the Bolivian government and scientific institutions around the country to mount an expedition into the depths of the park. Called “Identidad Madidi,” the effort is comprised of dozens of Bolivian researchers who, over the course of 26 months, will trek to 15 locations within the park and catalog all the animals and plants they can find.

Identidad Madidi kicked off in June 2015, and has already resulted in a bunch of surprises – including a new frog species and three probable new catfish species, along with several unusual bats that became known to science only recently.

While the expedition’s focus is on vertebrates, the researchers have also been recording butterflies and moths in the New Jersey-size national park. Today, WCS unveiled the butterfly tally so far: 950 species, consisting of 1,080 varieties (when subspecies are lumped in). For perspective, only around 725 butterfly species have been recorded in the entireties of the U.S. and Canada.

The aptly named blushing phantom (Cithaerias pireta tambopata), one of the butterflies recorded by Identidad Madidi. Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.

The new number adds many more butterflies to Madidi’s roster, with only 348 species registered before Identidad Madidi began. In addition to making many new records for the park, the expedition’s efforts have helped structure existing records.

“Identidad Madidi has encouraged us to systematize all previous data available for this record-breaking park,” said Fernando Guerra Serrudo, the expedition’s entomologist and Associate Researcher of the Bolivian Faunal Collection and the Institute of Ecology. “We first studied literature and photographs and increased formally recognized butterfly records. In addition, the Identidad Madidi expeditions have made a huge field contribution, further increasing the number of known species and subspecies to 1080 varieties.”

With another year and a half still left in their expedition, the researchers expect their butterfly count will keep rising.

“Based on studies in adjacent areas of Peru, eventually we expect more than 1,500 butterfly species to be registered in Madidi and with the planned expedition sites in 2016 we hope to get close to that number,” Guerra Serrudo said.

For moths, that number may be even higher, with expedition scientists estimating 10,000 species may live within the boundaries of Madidi National Park.

 

This butterfly’s name is Pamela (Perrhybris pamela). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A crescent butterfly (Ortilia gentian). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A common bentwing (Ebrietas anacreon). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A Castalia green mantle (Caria castalia). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A periander metalmark (Rethus periander). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A mangrove buckeye (Junonia genoveva hilaris). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
Malachites (Siproeta apaphus). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
Malachites (Siproeta apaphus) with wings folded. Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A firetip (Amenis pionia pionia). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
Clearwings (Episcada hymenaea ssp). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A glittering sapphire (Lasaia agesilas). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
A clearwing (Oleria alexina ssp). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.
Another clearwing (Melinaea marsaeus ssp). Photo by Mileniusz Spanowicz / WCS.