More than 150 rare caterpillars hatched at Chester Zoo are now destined for release into the wild in parts of England, where they have been extinct for a century.
Conservationists at the zoo have been using fine art paintbrushes to move the miniscule species into their specially designed habitats at the zoo.
The paintbrushes allow the zoo’s invertebrate keepers to be precise and delicate when handling the precious insects.
After plenty of eating and growth, the tiny youngsters will hibernate over the winter and pupate next year, emerging in the summer as Large Heath Butterflies.
Large Heath Butterflies were once common across the British Isles but over the last 200 years, they have been pushed further and further north. Large colonies previously at home in the boggy mosses of Manchester and Liverpool have long since been lost to local extinction.
As the UK has built its agriculture over the last two centuries, the wet mosslands that the Large Heath needs to survive have been drained and converted into farmland. As the land dried, the food plants for the Butterfly were lost, resulting in a cascade of wildlife disappearance.
The Butterfly can be identified by its orange wings, each bearing six black and white ‘eyespots’ on the underside. Conservationists hope to ensure that they will one day be a common sight across the UK once again.
Ben Baker, Team Manager of the Chester Zoo Butterfly team, said, “Few people realize that the Butterflies we might see in our gardens, forests and mosslands across the UK are heavily under threat, with many species disappearing from their last strongholds throughout England. It is an amazing privilege to play a part in embarking these rare caterpillars on their journey, returning the species to their historic home.”
Chester Zoo supports conservationists and conservation projects across the United Kingdom to prevent the extinction of unique and endangered species, safeguarding diverse and healthy ecosystems.