Eltham Copper Butterfly Monitoring

Eltham Copper Butterfly Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida monitoring - Western Colony, Eastern Colony and Pauline Toner Reserve:  September - October 2012

The Eltham Copper Butterfly Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida is a threatened species of butterfly (listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988) which is located in fragmented populations in Eltham, Castlemaine, Bendigo and Kiata, Victoria.  The Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring program was initiated in 1993 to assess the status of the species' populations throughout Victoria.  Since then, the larval and adult stages of Eltham Copper Butterfly have been monitored annually at all sites in Victoria.  Each October, nocturnal counts are conducted to search for the caterpillars, which only feed at night on their key food plant - a dwarfed form of the shrub Sweet Bursaria Bursaria spinosa.

The life cycle of the butterfly includes an intimate and obligatory association with ants of the genus Notoncus and Sweet Bursaria.  The butterflies have not been found in areas where Notoncus ant colonies do not occur.  Adults lay their eggs on the roots of Sweet Bursaria.  Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are guarded by the ants, which lead them to and from the ant colony to browse on the Sweet Bursaria leaves.  In return, the ants feed on sugar secretions which are exuded from the caterpillars' bodies.

The surveys involve searching for Eltham Copper Butterfly caterpillars on Sweet Bursaria bushes at night using a torch.  The cream coloured caterpillars live in ant nests at the bottom of the bushes during the day.  They come out of the nest during the night to feed on the leaves of the bush and are attended by the small, black ants.  Volunteers are organised into groups with one person recording data.  Volunteers follow a grid or transect and each Bursaria bush encountered is searched.  The number of caterpillars per plant, and the height and location of plants are recorded.  Each year these counts are undertaken to assess population stability at each of the butterfly colonies.  With this information, we can monitor changes in population size, host plant use and butterfly distribution over time.

- Counts begin between 7.00-8.30pm, depending on sunset / Daylight Savings Time. 
- Counts generally take 2 hours.
- Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own torch and wear protective footwear and clothing.

Two counts will be undertaken at each of the reserves on the following dates:

- Western Colony, Eucalyptus Road, Eltham (Melway 22 C5) - 25 Sept and 2 October 2012
- Eastern Colony, Diosma Road, Eltham (Melway 22 E5) - 27 Sept and 4 October 2012
- Pauline Toner Reserve, Eucalyptus Road, Eltham (Melway 22 C6) - 24 Sept and 1 Oct 2012

Extra counts are scheduled for 8 and 11 October 2012 in the event the early counts are cancelled due to poor weather.  If you would like to participate in any of these counts, please call Andrea Canzano (Zoologist with the Company) on 0437 354 213 and further details will be provided. 

Additional counts are planned throughout October at smaller reserves around Melbourne. Places for these counts are limited, so if you wish to help out, please contact Andrea for more information.

For additional information on the Eltham Copper Butterfly refer to the species' Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 Action Statement.

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