President Santos in the company of Museum scientists and journalists

The President of Colombia views the newly identified butterfly, Magneuptychia pax, in the Museum's Darwin Centre

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New butterfly name dedicated to Colombian peace process

Scientists have identified a distinctive new species of ringlet butterfly and named it Magneuptychia pax in recognition of the ongoing peace process in Colombia, where the butterfly lives.

The species epithet pax means peace in Latin.

The butterfly was discovered by a team of experts from Colombia, Peru, USA and the UK, led by Dr Blanca Huertas, Senior Curator of butterflies at the Museum. Their findings are published in the scientific journal Conservación Colombiana.

The team announced the new species name on a day of significant talks between UK and Colombian delegations about biodiversity, sustainability and scientific collaboration, hosted by the Museum.

Dr Huertas says, 'The name of this butterfly, Magneuptychia pax, is dedicated to the peace process in Colombia and to every person affected by a conflict that has lasted more than five decades, including in the remote forests that this butterfly inhabits.

'We hope attention will also focus on the need to conserve the Amazon's rainforests, and to improve conditions for research and scientific discovery in that region.'

Important international discussions

The Colombian and UK delegations attending the round-table discussions at the Museum included the Colombian Minister of Environment, Mr Luis Gilberto Murillo, and the UK Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, Mr Nick Hurd MP.

The talks aim to reinforce the existing UK-Colombian cooperation in relation to protecting forests and biodiversity, and mitigating climate change, and to create and strengthen partnerships between the two countries.

The Museum also welcomed HRH The Prince of Wales and His Excellency Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, President of the Republic of Colombia, as part of the President's first state visit to the UK.

President Santos was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his continued efforts to find a lasting resolution to the ongoing civil war.

During their visit, the dignitaries viewed specimens and met biodiversity scientists from the Museum, Bristol Zoo, the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Among the specimens on show was the new butterfly species. It is just one of 4.5 million butterfly specimens cared for in the Museum collection. 

Senior Curator Dr Huertas with a drawer of specimens from the collection of 4.5 million butterflies

New Colombian butterfly

The brown butterfly features vivid eye spots and a white band across both wings. It has a wingspan of around 21mm.

Although one of the first specimens was collected and brought to the Museum over 100 years ago, this species had remained undescribed.

The butterfly's distinctive wing pattern - in particular the pale bands - indicated it was a previously unrecognised satyrid butterfly in the genus Magneuptychia - a normally plain group with brown wings. DNA studies confirm its uniqueness.

The new species is only known to fly in areas of western Amazonia in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Unrivalled biodiversity

More than 3,500 species of butterfly live in Colombia, which is more than most other countries in the world.

Dr Huertas perching on a tabletop mountain in Chiribiquete National Park, Colombia, an area of remarkable species diversity

But it's not just butterflies that abound in Colombia. The country hosts nearly 20% of the world's species - including famous species such as the giant armadillo and the red howler monkey, and more bird and orchid species than anywhere else. It also contains an astonishing variety of habitats.

Dr Huertas says, 'This incredible diversity is one of the reasons it's so important to be able to work in partnership with scientists and naturalists in Colombia, to document and study as-yet-undiscovered animals and plants as well as those we know about. It's very positive that the UK and Colombia are working together to help ensure the long-term health of the Colombian rainforests.'

  • This article was updated and an image of President Santos added after the talks and visit had taken place on 2 November 2016.