Scientists reestablishing nearly-extinct butterfly population in Illinois

August 27, 2013 2:57:00 PM PDT
There's a good chance you've never seen a swamp metalmark butterfly. That's because they are almost extinct in Illinois-- but scientists are trying to bring them back to our area.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has been famous for its butterfly haven since 1999, with 20,000-30,000 new butterflies every year. But not all the butterflies are on exhibit. In a small laboratory a six-year project to save an endangered species is at last reaching a climax, where an extremely rare creature called the swamp metalmark is just about to make a comeback.

"We are trying to bring the Swamp Metalmark back to Illinois. It hasn't been seen in Northern Illinois since the 1940's," said Dr. Doug Taron, curator of biology.

ABC7's Frank Mathie asks, "Where did it go?"

"As a result of habitat loss, the metalmark died out in this part of the world," said Dr. Taron.

Since 2006, scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum have been trying to breed this tiny butterfly. It's only about three quarters of an inch across. And this year they did it with the help of metalmarks found in southern Indiana.

"We started with four moms from Indiana. We brought them back here to the museum and put them up in little mom condos and let them lay eggs. We carried those eggs through the caterpillar stage, pupa stage and now adults," said Karen Kramer Wilson, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Later this week and for the next several weeks, they will release over 100 of these butterflies out at the Bluff Springs Conservation Area near Elgin. And then, they will just let nature take its course.

"Lay their eggs and they hatch and they successfully complete the life cycle and help establish a population," said Kramer Wilson.

It's hoped that within five years, there will be about 1,000 of these almost extinct insects.


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