Parts of the northern Queensland are enveloped by a kaleidoscope of colour following a boom of the butterfly.
The massive numbers have caught the attention of scientists who are really thrilled by the increase.
The boom comes in the wake of fears in recent times that the unique Ulysses butterfly could become extinct.
“One of the species we are seeing a large increase in numbers is the Ulysses,” explained James Cook University senior botanist at the Queensland Herbarium, Ashley Field.
“A couple of years ago people were starting to become concerned that their numbers were down but their numbers are definitely up.”
The Cairns, Cassowary Coast and the Tablelands are covered with the amazing insects thanks to the existing prime weather conditions.
Dr Field noted that consecutive years with reasonably soggy seasons had created the perfect environment for plants that attract butterflies 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.”
Despite clearing rainy conditions, Dr Field forecasts that the boom could linger on for a while.
“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 effects of the weather
Dr Field added that weather conditions had some extraordinary effects on the pattern of butterflies in recent times.
Apparently, the tawny coaster butterfly migrated all the way from India to the northern parts of Australia during the Cyclone Debbie season 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 explained.
Researchers are looking forward to an impending migration of the blue tiger butterflies to Magnetic Island after unprecedented numbers were witnessed 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 noted.
“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.”
Apollo jewel under threat
Unfortunately, not all butterfly species are flourishing. Climate change and loss of habitat has taken a toll on some species.
For instance, the Apollo jewel, common in paperbark forests lying between Cardwell and Cairns, relies on ant house plants as its source of food.
“It has been gradually disappearing from areas that it was previously seen,” Dr Field said.
It’s a rare butterfly and sadly, doesn’t seem to respond the same way the thriving species do.
“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 for many years worked with the beautiful winged insects at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.
She told Storm Assist that habitat destruction experienced due to expansion of cities was a real concern but the resurgence of the Ulysses was encouraging.
“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 added that the community should actively take up the role of preserving the butterflies’ future by reintroduction of plants in 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.”
As to where you can spot the winged beauties in 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.”
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