Here are some slightly surprising figures. In the whole of the British Isles, there are currently 59 known species of butterfly. In the national park that covers the Masaya volcano, the edge of which is a kilometre or two from our farm, so far over 180 species of butterfly have been identified. The park covers a mere 54 square kilometres.
I know this through my friends Hilary Erenler and Michael Gillman, butterfly experts from (respectively) Northampton University and the Open University, who have been studying the park’s butterflies for several years. They have recently published a provisional report on their work (pdf), jointly with one of the park wardens, Erico Tellez Jimenez.
Slightly taking advantage of their expertise, I’ve invited them to look at our own range of butterflies and prepare a list for the farm, which in two short visits already has 36 entries. Several of the species coincide with those in the national park, including the two pictured here.
Although the farm offers nothing like the range of habitats found in the park, it does have one feature that the park lacks: a steep sided valley, known locally as a ‘quebrada’, which is normally dry but carries a fast-flowing current of water down to the lagoon (and into the park) when the heavy storms of the wet season occur. This valley, which we have to clamber down into and up out of to visit the far side of the farm, is perpetually damp, even at the height of the dry season. It’s here that the diversity of butterfly species (and indeed other animals) is greatest. One particularly unusual butterfly (not pictured) has transparent wings, and there appears to be a permanent colony of them at one spot in the quebrada.
As an extremely amateur naturalist, I find that the advantage of butterflies (as opposed to, say, mammals) is that they are very easy to spot. Many of them are also amazingly attractive, including the large-winged species like the Caligo (pictured) and the beautiful pale blue Morpho. We are slowly learning about what they eat, to preserve their feeding sites and maintain or increase the farm’s biodiversity.