Science, Tech & Environment

Geo answer

Today's Geo Quiz is fluttering in the breeze. Butterflies come in all sizes and colors. There are almost 20,000 known species. Scientists recently discovered one more butterfly to add to the list:

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�The name of this butterfly is Idioneurula donegani.�

OK -- that name went by pretty fast. Here it is again:

�Idioneurula donegani�

This butterfly's home habitat is in South America.... in a remote rainforest in Colombia. We're looking for the name of the Colombian state where this butterfly lives.

Idioneurula doneganiIdioneurula donegani

It lies east of the Magdalena River. And its capital is Bucaramanga. So name this Colombian state that's near the northern end of the Andes.

Magdalena watershedMagdalena watershed

We'll tell you more about its butterflies here...

You usually don't have to go too far to find butterflies. But you'd have to travel to South America to find the one we asked you about in today's Geo Quiz. The World's David Leveille tells us about this special butterfly and its home.

Discovering a new butterfly species is a badge of honor for Blanca Huertas. She's the Colombian born butterfly curator at the Natural History Museum in London.

"I discovered a butterfly who never has seen before for any human. It hasn't been named or been in any museums before, it's a new species."

Serran�a de los Yariguies: � Blanca HuertasSerran�a de los Yariguies: � Blanca Huertas

Right now, London's Natural History Museum has a major exhibit showing off its vast collection of butterflies (see link below). But it's the Andean region of South America, the mountainous corridor that runs through Ecuador, Colombia and Venzuela that is the world's richest region in butterfly biodiversity. 3600 (estimated) butterfly species have been identified in the rainforest of Colombia alone. The northern state of Santander is the answer to our Geo Quiz is especially interesting to Blanca Huertas. It's where she spotted a coffee colored butterfly with eyespots on its wings:

"The name of this butterfly is Idioneurula donegani, which is the scientific name, which is a bit difficult to give English name to the South American butterflies because we have nearly 4000 species in South America, but we call it "Yarigu�es ringlet."

Serran�a de los Yariguies: � Blanca HuertasSerran�a de los Yariguies: � Blanca Huertas

This butterfly with the catchy name flutters around the along the high ridges of Colombia's Yarigu�es mountains. It's an isolated section of the Andes that's been designated a national park by the Colombian government. Huertas and her team were dropped off by helicopter on a remote 10,000 foot peak to search for elusive butterfly species:

"They are brown so not many people pay attention to this small group and this particular one flies only above 3,000 meters above sea level so what we have to do is basically jump from a helicopter and we collect lots of butterflies and many new species in that particular place."

Yariguies Brush FinchYariguies Brush Finch

Huertas also discovered a new bird, called the Yarigu�es Brush Finch, in this same forest-in-the-clouds. But its South American butterflies, any and all of them that peak her curiosity, including one called "the witch":
"This is one of the biggest in South America actually and its called "the witch" in South America because they just fly early in the morning and very late in the evening so its very fascinating they're very slow and easy to catch actually so when you just see the back it looks like an owl so its able to scare the predators its looks like a big pear of eyes like an owl."

As in screech owl or a great horned owl ... a frightful sight to other small creatures of the woods. But aside from the myriad colors and camouflage wing patterns, Huertas says butterflies may help in "mapping" climate change.

Idioneurula doneganiIdioneurula donegani

"They can very sensitive even as an egg, larvae, and or as a butterfly so they can tell you about the quality of water if it's changing, so you see if populations decline, or sometimes when the population is abundant, it means predators of the species have been affected by something else, possibly the micro climate for example, there are many ways to study how the environment is changing using butterflies."

Huertas says she hopes her discovery of a butterfly named Yarigu�es ringlet will encourage others to keep exploring this part of the world.

She's also lending her efforts to an ongoing international initiative called the Tropical Andean Butterfly Diversity Project (see link below). Scientists are recruiting students to study the biology of Andean butterflies, collecting DNA specimens for an electronic database, and setting up conservation projects in the region extending from Venezuela all the way down to Bolivia.

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