Petchary’s Blog speaks out in favor of the many environmentalists/scientists who have objected to the mining operation in Puerto Bueno, Jamaica, sharing a concrete example of one of the many casualties that would result from mining in the area; specifically in this post, the endangered Blue Kite Swallowtail butterfly. The post features Jamaican entomologist Vaughan A. Turland, co-author of Discovering Jamaican Butterflies and their Relationships around the Caribbean.
[. . .] One of these dedicated and learned scientists is Vaughan A. Turland, a Jamaican entomologist and Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London. He is co-author of Discovering Jamaican Butterflies and their Relationships around the Caribbean. Here is what he has written about one precious endemic (meaning: it lives nowhere else in the world) butterfly that lives in the dry limestone forest of Puerto Bueno – the Blue Kite swallowtail.
Many thanks to Vaughan for specially writing this piece for my blog:
In the 1960’s the Blue Kite swallowtail, Protographium marcellinus, would swarm, dashing like blue flashes of light, through the streets of Kingston after its annual emergence. This sight though is sadly gone forever because of the progressive and ongoing loss of its very specialised habitat and breeding needs. Indeed, the outlook for the continued survival of this spectacular endemic Blue Swallowtail is not favourable. In 1985 when it was first listed in the IUCN Red Data Book, there were five known sub-populations across the island. Since then, destruction of habitat has probably led to the extirpation from at least two of these previously “permanent” breeding sites. The decline in numbers observed has been very rapid and the species is now assessed by some experts as “Endangered”. Of the remaining three small sub-populations the one in the dry limestone forest in the environs of Rio Bueno is an important key to the very survival of the species, and is its sole breeding site in northern Jamaica.
Interestingly, this spectacular Jamaican butterfly only has one larval food plant, Lancewood, Oxandra lanceolata upon which it is entirely dependent. Once the food plant is removed from the breeding site, the butterfly has nowhere to lay its eggs and the larvae, if there were still any, would have nothing to eat. As it is the butterfly only emerges once annually in any numbers, usually around May or June. In some years, there may also be a small emergence in October. In essence, the larvae pupate in leaf litter beneath the food plant trees and lay dormant for many months. Then after the May or October rain when the Lancewood is stimulated to produce fresh tender leaves suitable for oviposition, the butterflies emerge and the cycle starts again.
It was notable that in 2020, very few adult butterflies were seen across the island in May and June, and even fewer in October. The species is undoubtedly on a knife edge and clearance of any site where its larval food plant exists will accelerate the demise of the Blue Kite swallowtail. Dust from any mining operations would of course not just be restricted to the quarrying sites but would be wind-blown for many miles around. Leaves of larval food plants would be covered in this dust, making them unsuitable for larvae to eat and develop on. This reduction in surviving larvae would quickly result in loss of critical mass of the colony and its demise. [. . .]
[Shown above: The Blue Kite swallowtail (Protographium marcellinus). Photo by Vaughan Turland.]