Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lanka gets new butterfly

By Tahnee Hopman

Dr. van der Poorten

In over 40 years of studying butterflies, the discovery of a hitherto unknown species of butterfly comes as an achievement for veteran lepidopterist Dr. Michael van der Poorten. Over the past few days, Dr. van der Poorten has found a male and a female as well as some eggs of the new butterfly in the Wariyapola area. “When I first saw it, I thought that the butterfly was a kind of Lemon Emigrant. But on closer inspection, I found that this butterfly was quite different to the Lemon Emigrant, its closest cousin,” he said.

The upper side of the hind wing of this butterfly is a cadmium yellow, and the upper side of its forewing is chalk white. This is the butterfly currently identified as the Catopsilia Scylla, the newest species of butterfly identified in Sri Lanka- just five days ago. It belongs to the family Peridae, genus Catopsilia.

“There remains much more to be done,” says Dr. van der Poorten. The Catopsilia Scylla lays its eggs on a roadside plant , the Cassia Surattensis. “Observing the growth of the butterfly, the caterpillar stage, will include observing its feeding patterns, the time it takes to mature, how and where the mature butterfly lays its eggs,” explained Dr. van der Poorten. “ The life history of the butterfly has to be observed carefully to identify its species accurately. Considering the lifespan of the butterfly, this should take a month or two.”

The discovery itself has been immensely exciting, he says, considering that in Sri Lanka the last new species was discovered over 60 years ago. Having completed around 35 years of work in this field in Canada, Dr. van der Poorten has been in Sri Lanka over the past few years, and is now writing a comprehensive book on the butterflies of Sri Lanka.

Detailed Profile of the Butterfly


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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Non-native beetle spreading killer wilt

The redbay tree may soon face extinction across the Southeast thanks to a rapidly advancing virulent fungus, the causative agent of laurel wilt disease. The trees are an important food source for a variety of wildlife including some popular game birds, deer and songbirds.

The wilt disease, carried by a species of ambrosia beetle that is not native to the United States, has spread rapidly throughout the coastal states since its initial observation in 2003. It was likely introduced to the U.S. in 2002 when the beetles hitched a ride on shipping pallets coming into Port Wentworth, Ga., near Savannah. The beetles are native to India, Japan and Taiwan.

Dying trees were first observed in South Carolina in 2003. By 2006, the beetle and the disease were confirmed to have spread to five counties in South Carolina, 15 counties in Georgia and eight counties in Florida. The rate of spread was initially approximately 20 miles a year. However, that estimate has been discarded with the discovery of the disease in Florida's Indian River County, 140 miles south of any known infestation.

The beetles carrying the fungus responsible for the disease burrow into the cambium or internal layer of living cells between the tree's inner bark and sapwood. The fungus, once inoculated into the tree by the beetle, grows and clogs the tree's vascular tissue, resulting in the redbay's inability to move water and nutrients. The ambrosia beetle may leave after the initial visit but after the tree dies, other beetles return to eat the rapidly spreading fungus. It can take only a single beetle visit to infect the tree, resulting in its death. No method to halt or even slow the spread of the wilt disease is known.

State agencies including the Georgia Forestry Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, the South Carolina Forestry Commission, the Florida Division of Forestry and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division are monitoring the disease in hopes of preventing or slowing it's spread. An ongoing task force assembled by the Forest Service in 2007 found that simply removing the infected trees is not working and this practice has been halted, according to the Florida Division of Forestry.

Redbay trees extend from Virginia to Louisiana on the coastal plain. They are members of the larger laurel (Lauraceae) plant family, which includes pondberry, pond spice and avocados. Redbay trees have limited commercial use but are an important food source for turkeys, quail and songbirds, as well as bears and deer. They also serve as a critical host plant for the larval stage of the Palamedes swallowtail butterfly, the principal pollinator of the pine lily.

Surveys being conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Forest Service and the Laurel Wilt Task Force are expected to provide new information regarding the location and health of wilt-affected populations of endangered pondberry and pond spice plants in Georgia. These surveys will aid in developing a defense, treatment or quarantine strategy for all species affected by the wilt disease. The Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance will safeguard the Georgia ecotypes of these rare species thru ex situ propagation and strategic in situ outplantings, meaning the plants will be grown in their natural environment as well as in greenhouses or gardens. Seed material from Georgia stock will also be preserved at the USDA National Seed Laboratory in Dry Branch, Ga.

Jon Ambrose, assistant chief of the Nongame Conservation Section with the Georgia DNR, is helping to coordinate a statewide invasive species management plan as one component of the State Wildlife Action Plan. This management plan is being developed by more than 30 public and private conservation groups and is scheduled for completion this fall.

"An important conservation objective identified in the State Wildlife Action Plan is to combat the spread of invasive/noxious species in highpriority natural habitats by identifying problem areas, providing technical and financial assistance to landowners, developing specific educational messages, and managing exotic species populations on public lands," Ambrose said.

The sales of Georgia's hummingbird and bald eagle license plates, along with the State Income Tax Checkoff, support conservation projects such as battling invasive species. The Nongame Conservation Section does not receive state funds. Instead, nongame programs are supported through federal grants, donations and fund-raisers such as tag sales and the annual Tax Checkoff.

The license plates are available for a one-time fee of $25 at county tag offices or by checking the appropriate box on mail-in registration forms. Visit http://mvd.dor.ga.gov/tags for online renewals.

The Tax Checkoff provides another easy way to support nongame conservation. Simply fill in a dollar amount on line 26 of the long tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500EZ).


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Rare species of butterflies spotted

THRISSUR: Rare and endangered species of butterflies were spotted in Vazhachal forest near Athirappilly in the district during a nature trek undertaken by the Butterfly Art Foundation researchers recently.

Talking to newspersons here, director of the foundation Unnikrishnan Pulikkal said that redspot duke, great evening brown, Malabar flash and five-bar sword tail were the newly spotted species in the region.

He said that the spotting pointed out the ecological importance of the Vazhachal forest stretch.

Unnikrishnan said that during the sighting of these rare species of butterflies he was accompanied by Biju, research coordinator.

He said that the spotting was at a time when the region was under the threat of submerging owing to the proposed Athirappilly hydro power project .

He said that the Peechi Kerala Forest Research Institute researcher H H George Mathew has confirmed the rarity of the butterflies which had never entered the research documents of KFRI from this region so far.

“This finding can influence even the future of the Athirappilly project, in the light of the environmental implications of this important sighting”, he said. Unnikrishnan had spotted another rare and endemic species of butterfly, the Southern Duffer, from the same region two years ago.

He was one of the best 10 nature photographers of India selected by the Better Photography magazine last year.

He was also the first Indian to exhibit in the prestigious Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Ohio, USA, when he did an exhibition of butterfly photographs last year in the museum.


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