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New species of butterfly discovered in Colombia

09/08/2006 00:00:00 news/colombian-butterfly
December 2007. A new butterfly species, found only in the high Andes of South America, has been discovered by a scientist at the Natural History Museum, London. Idioneurula donegani is a small to medium-sized coffee-brown butterfly with eyespots on its hind wings, from the highest peaks in Colombia’s Serrania de los Yariguies. The butterfly was discovered during the first exploration of the area, which led to the creation of a national park in the region by the Colombian government.
Blanca Huertas, butterfly curator at the Natural History Museum, who discovered and described the new species said, ‘This is an amazing discovery. Butterflies are a diverse group of insects with almost 20,000 known species, 40 per cent of which are in South America. We have been to almost every corner of the world and although some remote parts of the Neotropical region remain unexplored, we only occasionally discover a new species.’

More stories about butterflies and moths

Blanca Huertas also discovered a new bird, the Yariguies Brush Finch, in the same area. Click here to read more about the new bird species.

I. donegani most resembles three other species of Idioneurula butterflies with yellow and orange outlines on the wings. It lives in the high elevation ‘paramo’ forests of Colombia, characterised by ferns, orchids, palms and grasses. I. donegani is endemic to the Yariguíes mountains in Colombia.

Butterfly location

  • Idioneurula donegani was found in the pristine paramo habitat along the ridge of the Serranía de los Yariguíes. It is an isolated northwest spur of the east Andes (Cordillera Oriental) of Colombia and reaches 3,400 metres above sea level. The new species was found at two different locations at the top of the mountain range. It has been recommended for IUCN categorisation as vulnerable.
To survey the Serrania de los Yariguíes, Huertas, her team and their equipment were dropped by helicopter on to an isolated peak at 3,000 metres above sea level. This was the first time parts of the highest elevations of the 100 kilometre-long mountain range have been explored. Butterflies were examined and compared to specimens held in the Museum’s collections, which include more than 7,000 species of butterflies from South America. Molecular analysis of DNA collected from the butterflies in the field has also revealed that I. donegani is a separate species.
Idioneurula donegani, newly discovered in Colombia. © Natural History Museum.
‘New finds like this encourage us to keep exploring the world’, continued Blanca Huertas. ‘We have only recently explored the mountain where we found I. donegani. Other remote and unexplored mountains like the Yariguíes could have other species that remain undiscovered. We are privileged at the Natural History Museum to have one of the largest butterfly collections in the world. We look after 28 million insects here, which include around three million butterflies.’

The paper describing the new species was published this month in the prestigious international journal Zootaxa.

The name donegani is dedicated to Thomas Donegan, EBA project director and pioneer of the expeditions to Serranía de los Yariguíes.

Butterfly Exhibition at the Natural History Museum -April 2008

  • Experience the beauty and magic of butterflies at the Museum’s new exhibition, Amazing Butterflies, which opens in April 2008. Walk among hundreds of free-flying tropical butterflies and come face to face with a huge variety of these incredible creatures, marvelling at the diversity and behaviour of species from America, Africa and Asia.
The EBA (Evaluation of Biodiversity in the Andes) and YARE (Yariguíes Assessment and Research of Endangered species) expeditions to the Yariguíes were supported by the BP Conservation Programme, BirdLife International, Conservation International, Flora & Fauna International, Wildlife Conservation Society, Rio Tinto plc, Duke of Edinburgh, the Royal Geographical Society, Fundación ProAves and many other Colombian institutions. The results from these expeditions have been essential in the creation of a 200,000 hectare national park in the region by the Colombian government last year.

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