The endangered Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly, native to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, is back.
The tiny creature is considered by experts and conservationists to be one of the rarest butterflies in the world.
But as an estimated 1,000 of the rare captives were recently released, conservationists are keeping their habitats secret so as not to interfere with nature.
The recent collaboration between the City of Rancho Palos Verdes and the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy and others hopes to bring the Blue back from the brink of extinction.
Blue Butterfly and caterpillar captives were freed at various life stages in four different locations where habitat had been restored by the Land Conservancy. Butterflies are released during flight season, which extends from the end of January to early May.
The first Blue Butterfly release was conducted in mid-April by Dr. Jana Johnson and her student team from America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College.
Happily, according to Land Conservancy’s biologist Austin Parker both mating and ovipositing (egg laying) by the Blues were observed two days after release.
The work to refresh the butterfly’s habitat was also aided by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game and The Urban Wildlands Group.
Katie Lozano, open space manager for the City of Rancho Palos Verdes said participation in the Palos Verdes Natural Communities Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP) program afforded the City access to $35 million in federal, state and local funding.
These sources allowed RPV to purchase approximately 945 acres of biologically important lands for inclusion in the 1,400-acre Nature Preserve, Lozano said.
“The collaboration began in the mid-90’s,” Lozano said. “Seeing the reintroduction of the federally endangered PV Blue butterfly to the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve last month, reinforces and invigorates the staffs’ dedication to this popular and incredible natural resource.”
The Palos Verdes NCCP/HCP is the only such collaboration in Los Angeles County and there are fewer than 20 throughout the state, Lozano said.
Communications manager for PVPLC Louise Olfarnes said this isn’t the first time the butterflies have been released back into the wild, but it is the first time released back to their historic range within the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes.
“Their sustainability in the wild is dependent on the Land Conservancy’s work to restore and manage land with butterfly host plants and to curate conditions suitable for their populations to thrive,” Olfarnes said. “It’s also dependent on the close coordination and collaboration with recovery partners who rear the butterflies in captivity.”
The cute, fuzzy creature has a wingspan of only about 0.98 to 1.18 inches. The male has bright silvery-blue top wings, outlined in a narrow line of black, while the female’s dorsal wing is a more brownish-gray color. Both males and females have gray underside wings, with dark spots surrounded by white rings. They also have black pearly eyes and black and white striped antennae.
Executive Director Adrienne Mohan of the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy said to restore the land with the necessary native plants, the Conservancy collects seeds, nurtures seedlings at the Native Plant nursery until ready for planting. Dedicated volunteers and supporters work to remove invasive weeds, install host plants, water, protect and annually monitor the vegetation in restored areas for the butterflies to be reintroduced and thrive.
Further, Olfarnes said observance in recent years indicated low potential for sustainable population. But with this year’s abundant release into new locations, there is a renewed hope of establishing a wild PV blue butterfly population. Their sustainability in the wild is dependent on the Land Conservancy’s work to restore and manage land with butterfly host plants and to curate conditions suitable for their populations to thrive. It’s also dependent on the close coordination and collaboration with recovery partners who rear the butterflies in captivity.
Between October 2019 and January 2020, volunteers with the Conversancy’s Adopt-a-Plot program organized numerous work days devoted to creating butterfly habitat. Together they planted 1,400 deer weed and rattle pod plants — blue butterfly favorites — at the Linden Chandler Preserve in Rolling Hills Estates.
Land Conservancy habitat restoration has significantly increased populations and assisted in the recovery of three other species besides the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly: The El Segundo blue butterfly, the Coastal California gnatcatcher, and the cactus wren.
Want to volunteer with the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy or help maintain the Palos Verdes Blue habitat?
Visit pvplc.org, or call:310-541-7613.