To save one of the rarest butterflies in the world, you first need to save an old bulloak woodland, preserve an unnamed goldilocks-species of ant, a bird and a parasitic plant. This is an incredible true story of how nature is intertwined and we are utterly dependent in every respect on their well-being. Trouble is we seem to neither understand nor care sufficiently to ensure they have places to call home and communities of fellow beings to interact with. Our priorities it would seem are all screwed up.
Dr Don Sands OAM, entomologist, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO, has spent many years studying these plant and animal interactions. He is urging us to not only pay closer attention to these small almost inconspicuous animals, but do whatever it takes to protect and preserve every patch of remaining remnant bushland we can.
The butterfly lives 10-15 days. This one lays eggs on mistletoe. Ant child care workers then carry the puppa to their nest where they care for it until it changes into a caterpillar and then to a butterfly.
Australian bushland is grossly under-studied, says Don Sands. Mistletoe is a driver of biodiversity. Mistletoe is not, as is commonly thought, a threat to the tree is it growing on, quite the reverse. Mistletoe is like a zoo for bushland and farmland – when farmers have mistletoe and cut it off in the belief it is parasitising the tree they are cutting off an amazing plant that provides a variety of helpful services within their landscape.
The density of ants and spiders within an area, are tell-tale indicators of the health of a bushland areas, which is not to say if an area is devoid of them the area is of little or no value, rather it is an indicator of human interference, which may well be true, but also it’s in need of rehabilitation. This area of land is telling us it’s time to provide vegetation and habitat for the ants and spiders and butterflies and all the species up the food chain, to include all the species essential for human well-being.
Climate envelopes are critical. Invertebrates are very sensitive to temperature variations outside of specific ranges. Slight changes can sound the death knell for these species and by the domino effect, other species as well. Therefore conservation is essential.
It’s not just about preserving the patch. We’re talking about corridors. These act as linkages between vertebrates like us, and insects – you really can’t separate the two. The beauty of these linkages is to understand that we are an extension of that – we are a part of this interconnected whole. But it’s very hard to get people to understand that, said Don, who is an advocate for a National Roadside Reserve System.
We must have nature reserves – as many as possible. Where ever there is natural roadside vegetation we need to hang on to it. I think the butterfly is a metaphor for the situation we are now faced with, Don says. When humans are threatened for whatever reason, we say these people are worthy of refuges. And so we provide safe houses – men’s, women’s and youth refuges – for their protection.
Similarly, we need nature refuges for plants and wildlife. That’s what we’re aiming for at Munibung Hill and the surrounding bushland – nature refuges for the plants and animals, many of which we haven’t even identified yet.
Background story here: How the web of life affects us all, From mistletoe to humans