First sighting in Switzerland – “When I saw the butterfly, I got an adrenaline rush”

Published25. November 2021, 17:23

In Ardez in the Engadin, a species of butterfly unknown in Switzerland was discovered this summer. The butterflies belong to the species of the Sumpfporst-Minierfalter. Curious about it: The specimens in the Engadine use the poisonous alpine rose as a habitat and source of food.

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In Ardez, Switzerland, previously unknown swamp porst leaf miners have been discovered that use alpine roses as a habitat.

Juerg Schmid

Because of their fondness for the plant of the same name, the two discoverers called the specimens in the Engadine “Alpine rose leaf miners”.

Peter Huemer

The caterpillars drill into the interior of the alpine rose leaves and stay there until pupation.

The caterpillars drill into the interior of the alpine rose leaves and stay there until pupation.

Juerg Schmid

  • A butterfly species hitherto unknown in Switzerland was discovered in Ardez GR.

  • The “alpine rose leaf miners” use the plant of the same name as a habitat and source of food.

  • The butterflies are widespread in the Nordic areas and are known there as the swamp porcelain leaf miner.

A research team consisting of Peter Huemer, Head of the Natural Science Collection of the Tyrolean State Museums, and the butterfly expert Jürg Schmid from Ilanz GR, made an astonishing discovery this summer: While hiking in Ardez GR, the two came across butterflies that use alpine roses as a habitat , as reported by “Blue News”.

The special thing about it: “Alpine roses are actually considered uninteresting for butterfly researchers because they are poisonous,” says Schmid. “When we saw a butterfly on an alpine rose anyway, it was quite an adrenaline rush,” says Huemer. DNA analyzes of the butterflies had shown that they were marsh porpoise leaf miners (Lyonetia ledi), Huemer continued. Their existence in Switzerland was unknown until the discovery. This species is normally found in Northern Europe, Northern Asia, and North America. Because of their preferred plant in the Engadine, Huemer and Schmid called the butterflies “Alpine rose leaf miners”.

“Hammock” on alpine rose leaves

The two researchers then observed the behavior of the butterflies. «After hatching, the caterpillars drill into the interior of the alpine rose leaves. They stay there until pupation and eat the leaf from the inside, ”says Huemer. And further: “To pupate, they create a web of silk threads on the underside of an alpine rose leaf, reminiscent of a hammock.”

It is still unclear why the Alpine rose leafminers can use the poisonous plant as a habitat. The moths could presumably store the toxins of the plant separately or convert them through enzymatic processes, says Peter Huemer.

Mysterious origin

The discovery raises the question of why a species of butterfly native to the Nordic region suddenly appears in the Engadine, especially since there are no swamp porches in the Alpine region. “We suspect that during the Ice Age, around 12,000 years ago, there were areas near the Engadin where there were both swamp pores and alpine roses. The butterflies’ population could have been divided between the two plants and geographically split over the years, ”says Huemer.

Huemer attributes the fact that no such butterflies were found by the summer of this year to their preferences. “They live in high, shady and cold spruce, larch and stone pine forests,” he says. “We suspect that other specimens can be found in similar areas in Eastern Switzerland and Vorarlberg,” says Jürg Schmid.

A widespread distribution cannot be assumed, however, since the species has remained undiscovered for so long, says Huemer. The existence of the butterfly species in the Engadine is absolutely harmless for the flora and fauna in this country.

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