Scientists ask for help protecting Hawaii’s state butterfly

The Kamehameha butterfly was officially adopted as the Hawaii state insect in 2009, but its future could be in jeopardy.

“It’s not in a lot of places it used to be and we’re pretty sure it’s not doing as well as it should be,” said University of Hawaii professor Dan Rubinoff.

Rubinoff and his colleagues believe it’s important to look after the well-being of this butterfly. “It’s one of only two native butterflies that we have in Hawaii,” said researcher Will Haines. “It’s a component of the biodiversity that would really be a shame to lose.”

Beyond its beauty, the butterfly serves another important purpose – being a vital part of the food chain. “If we lose one species, we’re actually losing food resources for other species, we’re losing pollinators,” said Haines.

Rubinoff, Haines and others are asking for the public’s help, especially hikers who may come across the butterfly in the rain forest.

“Every single person that gives us data makes that picture clearer and clearer and clearer,” said Rubinoff. “Once we have a really clear picture of how it’s doing, we’ll be able to identify the threats that it’s facing and help it face those threats more effectively.”

Their scientific study is called the Pulelehua Project, a collaboration between researchers and the public known as “citizen science.” These two scientists are interested in maintaining and growing the Kamehameha butterfly population here before it’s too late.

Anyone who sees a Kamehameha butterfly, caterpillar, egg, or chrysalis is asked to submit their photos and observations to the Pulelehua Project website.

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