LOS ANGELES—The El Segundo Blue Butterflies, once facing extinction, are now thriving on 200 acres of sand dunes at the west end of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Members of the media were invited for a rare view of the butterflies July 30 at the natural wildlife preserve that is currently closed to the public to help meet its restoration goals.
Richard Arnold conducted the tour of the dunes and blue butterflies. Arnold is an entomologist who has his own consulting firm, providing environmental consulting dealing with endangered species of insects, and is providing consulting services to the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA).
“There has been an ongoing effort that started back in the mid 80s to plant the specific food plant for the butterfly which is the seacliff buckwheat shrub and also to improve the habitat. The butterfly feeds on the flower heads of the buckwheat, with the caterpillars feeding on the seeds developing in the flowers, and the adults drinking nectar from the flowers,” said Arnold. “After planting more buckwheat shrubs over the years, now more recently they have tried to control the weeds, so that the buckwheat will regenerate naturally.”
“Butterflies can fluctuate dramatically from year to year, in recent years the numbers ranged from 30,000 when we had bad drought conditions, to more typically in the 60 to 70,000 range, occasionally they get even higher than that,” said Arnold.
The lifespan of the El Segundo Blue is only two months, during July and August. And they can only be viewed in their adult stage, for a couple of weeks during this time. By September their pupae lie dormant at the foot of the buckwheat shrub.
When less than 500 butterflies were counted in 1976, it became one of the first insects listed as a Federal Endangered Species.
To encourage the population growth of the butterfly, LAWA (the Los Angeles City department that owns and operates LAX) created the restoration project that focuses on reintroducing and protecting the coastal buckwheat plant, the butterfly’s sole food source.
The butterfly’s size is small about the size of a thumbnail up to 1 inch. The wings of the males are blue on top and brown on top of the females.
Habitat restoration continues and includes the removal of acacia, ice plant and other invasive plants. The natural wildlife preserve at LAX is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals and is the largest remaining coastal dune fragment in Southern California.
After expanding the butterfly’s habitat to its current 200 acres, LAWA continued with its ongoing management programs such as an annual population count and habitat restoration.
Owing to this care and dedication to the environment and nature’s small creatures, the El Segundo Blue Butterfly is now thriving across the street from a busy international airport with a growing population in the high, tens of thousands.