New Alaska Butterfly Species Is First In 28 Years

By R. Siva Kumar - 20 Mar '16 21:18PM

Biologists have discovered a new species of butterfly in the interior areas of Alaska, the first in 28 years. Researchers believe that it is a hybrid of two ancient species adapted for life in the Alaskas.

The newly discovered butterfly can give hints about Alaska's geological history as well as it climate changes, says a University of Florida researcher.

Lepidopterist Andrew Warren thus indicates that the Tanana Arctic butterfly was evolved from the Chryxus Arctic and the White-veined Arctic. All three of them lived in the Beringia region before the last ice age, according to the Washington post

The Tanana Arctic butterfly has been existing for more than 60 years, however, as it seemed similar to the Chryxus Arctic, the scientists felt that it was the same species.

When he was senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, Warren noticed its distinct characteristics.

As it sports white specks on its side below the wings that look penny-colored, the butterfly looks "frosted." This butterfly seems bigger and darker than other species.

Its distinctive DNA sequence makes it look like populations of white-veined Arctics, pointed out Warren. Hence, scientists hypothesised that it is a hybrid species.

As their bodies contain a "natural antifreeze", the butterflies tend to live in excessively cold and extreme regions. Much more investigation is called for in order to check out whether the Tanana Arctic also exists in the Yukon.

"Once we sequence the genome, we'll be able to say whether any special traits helped the butterfly survive in harsh environments," said Warren.

As it reacts quickly to changes in the climate, it may be a warning to remote regions. It lives in spruce and aspen forests in the Tanana-Yukon River Basin.

"This butterfly has apparently lived in the Tanana River valley for so long that if it ever moves out, we'll be able to say 'Wow, there are some changes happening,'," Warren said. "This is a region where the permafrost is already melting and the climate is changing."

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