A blue butterfly and a grasshopper sit on a massive green leaf

A Colombian metalmark butterfly, image by Juan Guillermo Jaramillo

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Colombia has the most butterflies in the world, for now

In a titanic effort spanning many years, a team of butterfly experts have listed the butterflies found in Colombia to date.

The detailed list of 3,642 butterfly species and 2,085 subspecies makes up 20% of all the species of butterflies found on the planet. 

The authors of the list hope it will help monitor, conserve and spark interest in Colombian butterflies at a time when deforestation and human pressures threaten biodiversity worldwide. 

Dr Blanca Huertas, Senior Curator at the Museum and one of the authors of the list says, ‘Action needs to be taken almost immediately as forests in Colombia are being lost at an alarming rate.’

The checklist may also inspire neighbouring countries, such as Ecuador and Peru, to publish lists of their own butterfly species. 

A yellow butterfly with black spots sits on a green leaf

A Colombian metalmark butterfly, image by Juan Guillermo Jaramillo

Why does Colombia have so many butterflies?

Colombia is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world with habitats that support the world's richest butterfly faunas. 

Butterfly habitats include the wet forests of the Pacific Chocó region through the cloud forests of the Andes and the dry forests of the northwestern lowlands to the grasslands of the llanos and the vast Amazonian rainforest.

The world's longest terrestrial mountain chain, the Andes, begins to splinter as it enters Colombia, forming three parallel mountain ranges in the centre of the country and a cluster of mountain islands. These areas provide even more butterfly habitats. 

To put Colombia's rich biodiversity into perspective, the 3,642 butterfly species found in Colombia can be compared to the 496 butterfly species found in Europe or the 4,000 butterfly species found in the entire African continent.

‘More than 200 species of the butterflies in the checklist are unique to Colombia and not found anywhere else in the world, so if we lose them there is no back-up population and they are gone forever,’ says Blanca. 

A blue butterfly with pink wings sits on a green lef with holes in it

A Colombian metalmark butterfly, image by Juan Guillermo Jaramillo

A labour of butterfly love

Every butterfly included in the list has been either held or photographed and known to have come from Colombia. 

The list's authors include researchers and people working in butterfly tourism and photography. They are an international team who live in the USA, Colombia and the UK, and all have devoted years to the project. The authors of the list are Kim Garwood, Juan Guillermo Jaramillo, Indiana Cristóbal Ríos-Malaver and Dr Blanca Huertas.

These authors checked databases, museum specimens, notes from fieldwork, as well as every book and article that has been published on butterflies in Colombia.

'The Museum has more than 40,000 boxes of butterflies, and I started to make notes from these when I started working at the Museum 15 years ago' says Blanca. Some of the butterfly specimens in the Museum date back to the 1700s and 1800s.

A brown, red and yellow butterfly sits on a banana leaf

A Colombian metalmark butterfly, image by Juan Guillermo Jaramillo

A butterfly curator's work is never done

The list has been published online in anticipation of future changes as it is common for the taxonomy and naming of species to change. 

'Two weeks before the list was published a butterfly expert changed the names of around 200 butterflies, so we need to go through the list and make those changes,' says Juan, manager of the databases and author. 'But if we don’t publish now, we will never do it.'

The 301-page book is published online in English and Spanish