One of Australia’s rarest butterflies, only found in the Lithgow, Oberon and Bathurst LGA’s, will receive extra help from the local Landcare Association thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Office of Environment and Heritage.
The Purple Copper Butterfly may only be the size of a thumbnail but it has an extremely intricate relationship with its surrounding environment.
The species exclusively feeds on the Bursaria Spinosa (subspecies lasiophylla) and native ants tend to the eggs and the larvae of the butterfly, escorting larvae from the ant nest to the bush to feed each night.
The ants protect the larvae and in return the ants feed on a sugary honeydew from a gland on the larvae’s backs.
The butterfly is only known to live in 45 sites in the Central West, all located at high altitudes.
“I think it’s really important for people to place value on a species that has a geographic range so limited it’s found nowhere else on the planet except for Lithgow, Black Springs to Yetholme,” said Lithgow Oberon Landcare Association secretary Trish Kidd.
She said the association has been carrying out funded protection work for the butterfly for the past 18 years but the state government’s ‘Saving our Species’ program has provided a new source of funding.
“We’ve done a lot of weed control and bush regeneration works,” Ms Kidd said.
“One of the things impeding the movement of the butterfly is invasive evergreen weeds.”
Dr Sarah Bell, the senior project officer of ‘Saving our Species’ at the OEH, said 10 priority sites had been identified for weeding.
Weeds growing near the Bursaria can prevent the species’ access to the bush.
“So the grant will give them [Landcare] the funds to implement the work. Landcare are going to organise professionals contractors to go to the 10 sites we identified.”
She said nine of the 10 sites were within Lithgow, and that most of them were on private land.
Local member Paul Toole said ensuring the survival of native species was vital.
“It’s important to ensure we preserve all native species because they all play a vital part of a natural system upon which we all depend,” he said.
The Purple Copper Butterfly was a component of the Planning Assessment Commission’s consideration of the extension of the Invincible Mine earlier this year. Castlereagh Coal has estimated 0.2 hectares of the threatened species’ habitat is present in the proposed disturbance area of the mine.
Dr Bell said people interested in helping monitor the Purple Copper Butterfly should go to the ‘Saving our Species’ website and follow the ‘Volunteer’ link.
“The butterfly is a bit of a community favourite, so I’m sure there will always be efforts to conserve it,” Dr Bell said.