A butterfly species, misidentified for more than 60 years, may be the only type of butterfly endemic to Alaska, say scientists.
The newly identified Tanana Arctic lives in spruce and aspen forests in the Tanana-Yukon River Basin. Because butterflies react quickly to climate change, the species could help scientists identify alarming changes in the sensitive arctic ecosystem, says Andrew Warren, a lepidopterist (butterfly expert) at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“This butterfly has apparently lived in the Tanana River valley for so long that if it ever moves out, we’ll be able to say ‘Wow, there are some changes happening,’ ” said Dr. Warren, lead author on a new paper in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera. “This is a region where the permafrost is already melting and the climate is changing.”
The Tanana Arctic butterflies – the first species discovered in Alaska in the last 28 years – may be a rare hybrid between two related species, the Chryxus Arctic (Oeneis chryxus) and the White-veined Arctic (O. bore), says Warren.
He first identified the new species while organizing butterfly specimens in a museum collection, he told Smithsonian.com. He noticed that the specimens, while similar to O. chryxus, possessed distinct characteristics, including white specks on the underside of its penny-colored wings that gave it a “frosted” appearance. This butterfly was also larger and darker than the other species.
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SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor