While perusing the Pacific Island of Vanua Levu in Fiji last year, researchers happened upon a precellular butterfly that captivated their attention. Given the mysteriousness surrounding its identity, the researchers snapped a photograph of the butterfly and forwarded it to experts at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to learn more about it.
Image Credit: John Tennent and Chris Müller
Fortunately, it’s a good thing they did. A paper published earlier this month in the journal Entomologischer Verein Apollo suggests that the specimen is new to science; a previously-unknown swallowtail butterfly species.
Because the specimen was discovered in the Nateway Peninsula, the researchers have subtly named it Papilio natewa.
"For such an unusual and large new butterfly to be discovered somewhere we thought was so well known is remarkable," said butterfly expert John Tennant. "It does make you wonder what else awaits discovery in the world's wild places. The key to finding new and interesting things is simply to go and look."
As it would seem, researchers happened upon Papilio natewa in a part of the world where butterfly ecology is thought to be well understood. Before the newly-discovered species, there were just two swallowtail butterfly species known to exist in this part of the world, and only one of those inhabited Fiji.
Papilio natewa appears to dwell in the island’s dense forests, residing at higher elevations in the forests’ treetops; this factor may have contributed to why the species went unnoticed for so long, as accessing these parts would have been no easy task for purposeful research. Nevertheless, the researchers were exceptionally fortunate to have found on at ground level.
The most recent discovery upholds how we still have much to learn about the world around us – even in the places we think we already know a lot about, and it’s an inspiring thought considering how researchers are relentlessly probing ecosystems around the globe with a fine-toothed comb for new species.
"Because they are large, conspicuous and often beautiful in appearance, Swallowtail butterflies have been intensively studied for over 150 years," added James Hogan, the manager of butterfly collections at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
"To find a new species like this, not only in a small and reasonably well-studied area like Fiji, but also one which looks unlike any other Swallowtail is truly exceptional. For John Tennent, Greg Kerr and the rest of the team this really is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery."
It’s not the first new butterfly to be discovered by researchers, and it won’t be the last. It should be interesting to see what they’ll find next as nature observations continue.
Source: University of Oxford via Science Daily