Researchers believe the new species, found deep in the Alaskan wilderness, could be an ancient hybrid.
It’s been more than 28 years since scientists described a new butterfly species in Alaska, but a recent study reveals a stunning new species discovered in the interior of the state. According to a report from Phys.org, the Tanana Arctic, or Oeneis tanana butterfly may be the only species endemic to the state.
The species was described by lepidopterist Andrew Warren from the University of Florida, who says it may be the result of a rare combination of two related species. The butterfly isn’t like the monarchs of the continental U.S.; it’s particularly well suited for surviving in the arctic climate. Researchers believe that the hybridization may have even occurred before the last ice age.
The study describing the butterfly was published in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera. The discovery could lead to a deeper understanding of the Arctic’s geological history, and may even reveal secrets about how butterflies came to populate the Arctic in the first place.
“Hybrid species demonstrate that animals evolved in a way that people haven’t really though about much before, although the phenomenon is fairly well studied in plants,” said Warren. “Scientists who study plants and fish have suggested that unglaciated parts of ancient Alaska known as Beringia, including the strip of land that once connected Asia and what’s now Alaska, served as a refuge where plants and animals waited out the last ice age and then moved eastward and southward from there.” Warren believes the discovery could shed new light on the spread of a wide range of species following the last Ice Age.
The species lives in the pine forests of the Tanana-Yukon River Basin, which researchers believe eluded the reach of glaciers that spread throughout the Earth 28,000 to 14,000 years ago. Warren says that genetic sequencing will need to be carried out in order to confirm theories about the butterfly’s true origin, but the discovery shows that there’s always something new to find.
A press release from the University of Florida describing the details of the study can be found here.