A team of butterfly and moth experts at the University of Florida believes that a newly found butterfly species that is endemic in Alaska could provide a fresh perspective on the country’s changing climate and geology.
Andrew Warren, one of the researchers that discovered the butterfly and head of UF’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, believes that the new species, dubbed Tanana Arctic, is an ancient hybrid of two other related species: the White-veined Arctic and the Chryxus Arctic.
Experts estimate that all three species thrived in Alaska before the beginning of the last ice age.
Researchers have been studying the Tanana Arctic for more than six decades, but they failed to see it as a different species because of its similarities with the Chryxus Arctic. Only recently, Warren realized that the butterflies were two distinct species after he took a closer look at the specimens stored at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the university’s campus.
Warren explained that the new species features some white specks on its wings which make it look covered in frost. Plus, adults are darker and bigger than the two other species.
DNA tests showed that the newly found butterfly has common traits with the White-veined Arctics, which may suggest that it is a rare hybrid. As a follow-up, the team plans to learn whether the Tanana Arctic can be found further eastward into the Yukon area.
Researchers explained that these butterflies can survive extreme cold because of their bodies’ ability to produce a natural antifreeze. But Warren and his fellow researchers plan to conduct further DNA tests to see whether there are other features that helped the butterfly survive in the extreme environment.
Researchers will make another trip to Alaska next year when they plan to capture more specimens for the DNA testing. Scientists will also want the tests to confirm whether the Tanana Arctic is a rare hybrid or not.
The first specimens were collected in the Tanana-Yukon River Basin, where researchers believe the butterfly has been lived for millennia. They believe that if the animal ever abandons the region, it would be a clear sign that climate change has impacted the remote part of the world.
The research team noted that there are some changes in the region already. For instance, temperatures are now slightly higher and the permafrost is thawing.
Image Source: news.ufl.edu