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Awarded resident makes significant Seymour wildlife discovery

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Max Davies
Max Davies
Max is a journalist for the North Central Review. He joined the paper as a cadet journalist in 2021 and graduated from La Trobe University in 2023. He takes a keen interest in motorsport and the automotive industry.

A threatened species of butterfly could have a bright future in the Mitchell Shire following an important ecological discovery in the Seymour area.

Five new coconut ant nests have been discovered in the area, one of which contains caterpillars of the threatened Small Ant-blue Butterfly – a species that relies on the nests to develop its young.

The coconut ants have never been studied in depth, so the discovery is expected to assist conservationists in mapping species distribution across Victoria.

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Threatened Species Conservancy trainee entomologist Kirsten Boehm, who was this year awarded Mitchell Shire Young Citizen of the Year for her conservation work, said knowledge of the ant nests gave hope to protecting the threatened butterflies.

“[The ants] have just been noted to be around Mount Piper and other specific sites in Victoria where they’ve seen the Ant-blue,” she said.

“Being able to actually map out the distribution and the fact that we’ve actually found the Small Ant-blue caterpillars at a site in Seymour shows that there are possibly other places that these ants and butterflies can be found.

“It essentially means that the species has a better chance of surviving if we can get these other sites protected.”

The Small Ant-blue Butterfly lays its eggs on the coconut ant nests, which are then taken care of by feeding the ant larvae to the carnivorous caterpillars.

In return, the caterpillars will produce a honeysuckle substance that is eaten by the ants to feed the nest.

The Mount Piper conservation region is recognised as one of the only known sites in Victoria where the Small Ant-blue and Large Ant-blue butterflies coexist, bolstering the significance of the Seymour discovery.

“Essentially what we’re coming along and doing is ramping up the stuff that was set in place to say ‘okay, we need to start the conservation, we need to get it to a good spot so that these butterflies can continue existing here’,” Ms Boehm said.

RECOUNTING: Ms Boehm was awarded Mitchell Shire Young Citizen of the Year for her conservation work at this year’s Australia Day awards ceremony. ​

Ms Boehm said the next step in researching the area was to conduct specific studies and make information and resources available to assist in both protecting the butterflies and learning about the coconut ants.

“Next step is noting down the habitat, looking at the microclimate of the area, and then it will be collecting a lot of data and hopefully getting some papers out on that,” she said.

“It’s about giving the public knowledge as well so that people can see these amazing species and then also be able to know if they see it to go ‘oh, that’s a coconut nest, I won’t disturb it’, especially when people are collecting wood.

“Unfortunately for a lot of threatened species, there’s not a lot known about them. It’s getting that knowledge so that everyone can do a better job in conserving these animals.”

For more information on the Threatened Species Conservancy, visit www.tsconservancy.org.

Featured image: While doing surveys in the Seymour region, entomologist Kirsten Boehm has found five new coconut ant nests, with one of the new nests containing caterpillars of the threatened small ant-blue butterfly. ​

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