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New Colombian butterfly found

19 December 2007

A new butterfly species, found only in the high Andes of South America, has been discovered by a scientist at the Natural History Museum, London.

Idioneurula donegani is a small to medium-sized coffee-brown butterfly with eyespots on its hindwings, from the highest peaks in Colombia's Serranía de los Yariguíes.

The butterfly was discovered during the first exploration of the area, which led to the creation of a national park in the region by the Colombian government.

'This is an amazing discovery,' says Blanca Huertas, butterfly expert at the Natural History Museum, who discovered and described the new species. 'Butterflies are a diverse group of insects with almost 20,000 known species, 40% of which are in South America.'

'We have been to almost every corner of the world and although some remote parts of the Neotropical region remain unexplored, we only occasionally discover a new species.'

I. donegani most resembles three other species of Idioneurula butterflies with yellow and orange outlines on the wings. It lives in the high elevation 'paramo' forests of Colombia, characterised by ferns, orchids, palms and grasses.

I. donegani is an endemic species of the Yariguíes mountains in Colombia, which means it is not found anywhere else in the world.

In order to survey the Serrania de los Yariguíes, Huertas, her team and their equipment were dropped by helicopter on to an isolated peak at 3,000m above sea level.

This was the first time people have explored the highest elevations of the 100 kilometre-long mountain range.

Butterflies were examined and compared to specimens held in the Museum's collections, which include more than 7,000 species of butterflies from South America.

Molecular analysis of DNA collected from the butterflies in the field has also revealed that I. donegani is a separate species.

'New finds like this encourage us to keep exploring the world', continued Blanca Huertas.

'We have only recently explored the mountain where we found I. donegani . Other remote and unexplored mountains like the Yariguíes could have other species that remain undiscovered.'

'We are privileged at the Museum to have one of the largest butterfly collections in the world. We look after 28 million insects here, which include around three million butterflies.'

The paper describing the new species was published this month in the prestigious international journal Zootaxa.

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