Butterfly species new to Hawaiʻi makes a home in Waikiki

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Daniel Rubinoff, 956-8432
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
Posted: Oct 13, 2008

Scientists have observed and identified a species of butterfly in the Waikiki area of Oʻahu — previously unknown in the islands or in the United States. UH Mānoa‘s Daniel Rubinoff, an associate professor of plant and environmental protection sciences in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, contributed to the investigation and identification process.

Rubinoff comments that there are only two species of butterfly native to the Hawaiian Islands, but new arrivals do show up from time to time — some brought in on purpose for biological control purpose, but more commonly by accident with airline or ocean shipping traffic from the Asia-Pacific region or from Southern California.

This new arrival has been determined to be Zizina otis, the Lesser Grass Blue, widely known throughout Asia and the Pacific and in some parts of Africa.

The butterfly was first observed by Honolulu resident Jim Snyder, an amateur butterfly watcher, who spotted several of them in March, in a grass field adjacent to Kapahulu Avenue between the Waikiki Library and the Ala Wai Golf Course. Snyder knows his butterflies and had not previously seen this species or genus in Hawaiʻi. He contacted researchers for a more thorough investigation, and researcher Andrew Warren from the University of Florida in turn contacted Professor Rubinoff at UH Mānoa. Field work proceeded with personal observations and to photograph both males and females; specimens were collected, and DNA was extracted and preserved for future research.

The butterflies appear to be dependent on Mimosa pudica — more commonly known in Hawaiʻi as "sleeping grass," and some female butterflies were observed laying eggs on the plant.

"We think this particular species came to Oʻahu by some human-assisted means rather than by natural dispersal," Rubinoff said. "Since it appears to be attracted to Mimosa pudica — which is common in lawns, roadsides and pastures on all major islands except Molokaʻi — we expect that it will eventually spread pretty much statewide.

"Amateur naturalists such as Mr. Snyder are an important resource for the scientific community," Rubinoff added. "We appreciate his expertise and attention to detail. At this point, the new butterfly does not seem to be harmful to Hawaiʻi‘s environment, but each time a new species arrives there is the potential for negative consequences. We‘ll be watching."

[Note to editors: The research paper for Zizina otis in Hawaiʻi was published in the Spring 2008 edition (Volume 50, Number 1) of the News of the Lepidopterists‘ Society. It is available upon request from Asst. Professor Daniel Rubinoff — 956-8432 and/or rubinoff@hawaii.edu.

Amateur butterfly watcher Jim Snyder maintains a Web site of the more than 1,000 species of butterflies he has observed and photographed in the US, Canada and Mexico — including all seventeen species found in Hawaiʻi: http://community.webshots.com/user/gmanager999.]