Unique Butterfly Reported in Nimba County

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Liberia is now the home to a unique new species of butterfly. The species which belongs to the Aslauga ernesti-group in the Blue Family (Lycaenidae) was discovered in Liberia’s Nimba Mountains and was published online on the 21st July in Metamorphosis, a peer reviewed journal published by the LEPIDOPTERISTS’ SOCIETY OF AFRICA.

The discovery is the result of a follow-up study to an initial survey carried out in 2012 that assessed butterfly diversity around impacted and non-impacted areas of ArcelorMittal, Liberia’s (AML) Phase 2 Operations in the Nimba Mountains (Western Range). The study covered areas of Mt. Tokadeh, the proposed

Tailings Management Facility (TMF) facilities near Gbarpa and the proposed mining pits on Mt. Gangra and Mt. Yuelliton.

Although the 2012 study was monumental in investigating Liberia’s butterfly diversity, it lacked any reflection of the results of previous biodiversity studies conducted in the East Nimba Nature Reserve (ENNR). ArcelorMittal Liberia therefore requested an in-depth re-assessment of the butterfly fauna of ENNR with special focus on the species of conservation concern recorded during the survey in 2012.

The assessment was coordinated and reported by Szabolcs Sáfián, a fellow from the Institute of Silviculture and Forest Protection, University of West Hungary, associate researcher at the African Butterfly Research Institute in Kenya. The study revealed “outstandingly high” butterfly diversity in the surveyed areas and recorded various species of conservation concern and even quite a few species that were unknown to scientific discovery. The article highlights previous biodiversity studies and the features found in the new species.

The Aslauga ernesti-group consists of four unique-looking species, which are all extremely local, strongly seasonal, and fly only in the short sunny periods during the rainy season. The males are avid hill-toppers on mountains, where the lower slopes are usually covered with forest or dense woodland but more open savannah or grassland replacing forest on and around the summits. There is also the probability that these four species are associated with upland climate, as all known localities are in upland or mountainous regions, regardless of their biogeographic position. The discovery of a fifth species was made in the group in Liberia’s Nimba Mountains, where a few males and a female were captured on a sparsely wooded grassy hilltop during the rainy season in August 2013 ( Safian, 2015).

Additionally, the study also assessed the butterfly fauna in the Gba Community Forest (CF), and other areas which are not impacted by the current mining activities of the company.

This new butterfly was named after the late Dr. Torben B. Larsen, who was a leading scientist in butterfly research and conservation in the region. Dr. Larsen wrote the book „Butterflies of West Africa”, which is still a bible of all Lepidopterists active between Senegal and western Cameroon. He has been a mentor also to Szabolcs Sáfián, who decided to “dedicate this unique butterfly to his friend and teacher”. In a subsequent edition of this column, we will feature Szabolcs Sáfián who has led this effort!

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