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(QUEENSLAND) Creation IS Wonderful: The explosion in numbers of Butterflies has caught the eye of scientists encouraged by the increase in the iconic Ulysses butterfly #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – May.03: One of the species we are seeing a large increase in numbers is the Ulysses,” said James Cook University senior botanist at the Queensland Herbarium, Ashley Field.

Butterfly boom takes flight in north Queensland under perfect weather conditions with a kaleidoscope of colour has enveloped parts of north as the region revels in a butterfly boom as it flies in the face of fears in recent years that the iconic Ulysses butterfly may be dying out.

updated 8h ago

butterfly with black, yellow, green and blue pattern wings hangs on leaf
An abundance of food has contributed to the boom of butterflies like the Cairns birdwing.(ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

“A couple of years ago people were starting to become concerned that their numbers were down but their numbers are definitely up.”

Large butterfly with black outline and blue wings sit on timber log
Scientists are encouraged by an explosion in Ulysses butterflies in North Queensland.(ABC News: Chloe Chomicki)

The Cassowary Coast, Cairns, and the Tablelands are teeming with the beautiful insects with prime weather conditions behind the boom.

Dr Field said consecutive years with reasonable wet seasons had created an ideal environment for butterfly-attracting plants to thrive.

“It’s a Goldilocks effect. It’s the middle ground,” he said.

“It’s been a very good season for many different species of butterflies. One of the reasons for that is that we’ve had quite a long wet season, it started early and it’s still going.”

Yellow butterfly sits on pink flower sounded by greenery
Scientists anticipate the boom could be around for some time.(ABC News: Chloe Chomicki)

Even with rainy conditions clearing, Dr Field predicted the boom could continue for quite some time.

“Because their food plants will continue to grow, many will get another generation in. So you will notice there will be more egg laying going on the next few days,” he said.

Unexpected impacts of the weather

Dr Field said the weather had some unusual impacts on the pattern of butterflies in recent years.

orange butterfly with black spots sits on bush
The tawny coaster butterfly turned up in North Queensland at the same time as cyclone Debbie in 2017.(Supplied: Michael Braby)

The tawny coaster butterfly migrated from India to the north at the same time as Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

“Their migration is related to climatic events and availability of food plants, so it can be different in different areas but they tend to move around,” Dr Field said.

Researchers are also preparing for the migration of the blue tiger to Magnetic Island after record numbers were seen in 2020.

“They travel many many kilometres in directional flight over winter and then fly back again at the end of that dry season,” Dr Field said.

“So the same individual lives almost a year and flies one way [to the Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, and Palm Island] and back again.

“They are remarkable creatures.”

blue and black butterflies in green plants
Researchers are preparing for the annual migration of blue tigers to Magnetic Island.(ABC Tropical North: Ollie Wykeham)

Apollo jewel under threat

But not all species are thriving. Climate change and habitat loss have taken a toll.

The Apollo jewel, traditionally found in paperbark forests between Cairns and Cardwell, is reliant on ant house plants as a food source.

“It has been gradually disappearing from areas that it was previously seen,” Dr Field said.

It’s quite an uncommon butterfly and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to respond in the same way [as the thriving species].

“I’ve not seen big numbers of it in any of the years where we see big numbers of other butterflies, and that’s quite concerning.”

Robin Cruse has dedicated many years to working with the winged beauties at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

She said habitat destruction, seen as cities grow, was of real concern but said she was encouraged by the resurgence of the Ulysses.

“The butterflies are the ambassadors for the insect world and we know from around the world the insects are definitely suffering,” Ms Cruse said.

“To see the Ulysses — which is the ones we all take notice of — getting better in numbers is very, very good.”

Ms Cruse said the community had an important role to play in preserving the butterflies’ future in the long term through reintroducing plants into their gardens.

“Each different species of butterfly caterpillar has its own specific plant or group of plants they feed on,” she said.

“If they are lucky they will have a wide range of plants.

“Often smaller butterflies will feed on smaller, insignificant plants that we all look at as weeds.”

Black butterfly with white slash in corner of wing sits on leaf
Habitat destruction in recent years has put some butterflies in a precarious position.(ABC News: Travis Mead)

As for the best place to spot a butterfly over the coming weeks?

“A lovely sunny, high spot is a good spot for finding butterflies, where the conditions are right for them,” Ms Cruse said.

“That’s when they tend to congregate.”

#AceNewsDesk report ………Published: May.03: 2021:

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