Rare native butterfly found 'thriving' on Little Barrier Island

The forest ringlet is not found anywhere else in the world, and has no close relatives.
Melissa Hutchison

The forest ringlet is not found anywhere else in the world, and has no close relatives.

A rare native butterfly, whose numbers were in severe decline, has been found "thriving" on Little Barrier Island.

Several sightings of the forest ringlet butterfly on the island recently surprised experts.

"We have done an extensive survey of most New Zealand locations where we knew the forest ringlet could be found," said Jacqui Knight, spokeswoman of the Moths and Butterflies Trust.

The distinctive butterfly was recently spotted several times in the Hauraki Gulf's Little Barrier Island.
Moths and Butterflies Trust

The distinctive butterfly was recently spotted several times in the Hauraki Gulf's Little Barrier Island.

"So we're absolutely delighted to think that it's somewhere we've never heard of before."

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The distinctive orange, black, white and yellow butterfly was spotted five times in one day on the island - leading the butterfly authority to say it "appears to be thriving".

The species is only found in New Zealand and has no close relatives.

Knight said it was once widespread throughout New Zealand's forests, but high numbers of introduced pests meant numbers declined and it was limited to a few remote areas.

"It has been a long time since the rare butterfly was seen in the Auckland and Wellington regions."

The Department of Conservation hailed the sightings as possibly the "most significant" event for the Hauraki Gulf island in five years.

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The department's science advisor, Eric Edwards, said the lack of rodents and low numbers of wasps on the island gave the butterflies a fighting chance, and made the site worthy of further study.

He said the butterfly tended to live and fly high in forest glades, from near sea level to the tree line, but females could be seen on or near grass-like plants, where they laid their eggs.

LITTLE BARRIER ISLAND

Little Barrier Island, or ​Te Hauturu-o-Toi, was New Zealand's first nature reserve.

The 3000-hectare island is one of the last large forested areas left in the country which is relatively undisturbed by browsing mammals, and so is a valuable refuge for rare and endangered plants, birds and animals whose mainland habitats have been destroyed.

It has been a sanctuary for over 100 years, and has been predator-free since 2004.

 - Stuff

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