It’s not a contest any species would want to win, but there seems to be one undisputed contender for the title of Australia’s rarest butterfly.
That is, unless it has already become extinct. The last “official” sighting of this insect in Queensland was from near Coolum Beach in 1988. We have a more recent documented occurrence in New South Wales, near Limeburners Creek National Park in 2001.
It’s never been common in Australia, even in its heartland, the coastal areas of Queensland and New South Wales from Gympie to Port Macquarie, but the extensive developments throughout this region have done the butterfly no favours. The larvae feed on the arrowhead violet, a small easily overlooked native plant that grows in damp, shaded conditions amongst grasses, a herb which occurs over much of the moderate rainfall areas of eastern Australia, from Tasmania to Cape York.
The butterfly in question is the Australian or Laced Fritillary, Argyreus hyperbius, the only member of the true fritillaries, a large nothern hemisphere family of butterflies, that has ever been recorded in this country.
While the last official sighting of the Fritillary was in 2001, there is a fairly reliable report of a sighting from April 2015, when Tony Moore from Landcare Port Macquarie saw a specimen in the Limeburners Creek National Park. He was unable to secure a photograph, but he believes he spotted a rather worn male feeding on nectar from lantana flowers along the roadside, before it flew back over the banksias to the sedge swamps.
There have been a few credible sightings of the butterfly recently, but no photographs or specimens have been officially recorded. These sightings give us hope that wild populations still exist, but we need the help of the community to find themMike Andren – Threatend Species Officer, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH)
It’s a fairly large butterfly, and if it is still flying in Australia, the area around Port Macquarie would be the most likely place to find it. Unlike a few other local rarities, the Fritillary is a distinctive insect, and shouldn’t be confused with anything else if the observer is able to get a good view of the butterfly. A decent photograph would cause great excitement amongst lepidopterists, and the New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment would want to hear all about it.
So next time you’re heading up the coast, make sure you have your camera with you.