Parks Canada and Calgary Zoo partner to conserve endangered butterfly

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Calgary Zoo researcher Alyssa Friesen examines a half-moon hairstreak butterfly in the field in Waterton Lakes National Park in 2019. Photo courtesy of Jill Hockaday/Calgary Zoo.
Calgary Zoo researcher Alyssa Friesen examines a half-moon hairstreak butterfly in the field in Waterton Lakes National Park in 2019. Photo by Jill Hockaday /Calgary Zoo

“This tiny and humble butterfly may not be in the spotlight as much as some species, but their existence is a valuable and intrinsic part of Canada’s rich biodiversity; together we’ll work hard to ensure they have a vibrant future for generations to come.”

The half-moon hairstreak (Satyrium semiluna) gets its name because of the indistinct white-ringed black spots on its wings and, unlike most other species of hairstreaks, has no tail on the hindwing. Butterflies play a critical role in an ecosystem’s biodiversity as a prey species and as a pollinator.

The loss of native plants, which are a butterfly’s source of food, shelter and breeding, is the most significant threat to the half-moon hairstreak. The loss of plants is partially caused by the introduction and spread of invasive plants.

The only location where this butterfly is known to exist in Alberta is in Waterton Lakes National Park in the Blakiston Fan, a grassland area along the entrance road to the park.

Through the collaboration, conservation teams will advance longer-term population monitoring and work to improve understanding of the life history of the species. With this kind of data, paired with a collection of genetic material from other populations in B.C. and Montana, they can also assess the possibility of wild-to-wild translocations of butterflies.

The butterfly’s duration of life stages, survival rates, larval behaviour, interactions with ants and egg over-wintering conditions are all parts of the program that will help conservationists determine the best way forward to restore its habitat and help the butterfly.

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