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Two new butterflies for the UAE


Two species of butterfly have been found for the first time in the UAE by locally-based naturalists who are preparing a comprehensive account of the UAE butterfly fauna. The total number of species known for the country now stands at 57.

The Mottled Emigrant, Catopsilia pyranthe, is a medium-sized, pale yellow butterfly common in India, which looks like a leaf when perched in vegetation. It was found on Al Noor Island, a leisure venue in Khalid Lagoon, Sharjah, where its entire life cycle has been photographed. The Tiny Grass Blue, Zizula hylax, a very small butterfly from the African and Asian tropics, was found on landscaping in urban Dubai. In each case the butterflies were associated with particular imported ornamental plants on which they lay their eggs in their native homes and on which their caterpillars develop.

The new butterflies probably arrived in the UAE with imports of the plants on which they were found, which are very common in public and commercial properties. There is a slight possibility, however, that the Tiny Grass Blue may have expanded its range northward from Oman along with the continued greening of the UAE, or perhaps due to global climate change. Both species could have been present for a number of years, being overlooked until now, because of their close resemblance to better known UAE butterflies – the African Emigrant (Catopsilia florella) and the Asian Grass Blue (Zizeeria karsandra), respectively.

Two other resident butterfly species have known to have reached the UAE recently with imported plants. One, the Western Pygmy Blue Brephidium exilis, is originally from dry southwestern North America, but arrived here by the early 1990s. It lives on saltbushes and is now found throughout the UAE. The other, the Cycad Cupid, Clades pandava, from southeast Asia, was first noticed in 2014. It lives on landscaped cycads, a form of imported palm tree, and has been found at a number of locations in suburban Dubai.

The two new butterflies were recognised by Dubai residents Binish Roobas and Gary Feulner, authors of a forthcoming publication on the UAE’s butterflies.. Identification of the Mottled Emigrant was provided by international butterfly experts Dubi Benyamini and Ofir Tomer, following study of its behaviour, timing and appearance. In the case of the Tiny Grass Blue, Roobas recognised it after assisting a correspondent with the identification of a photograph of the same butterfly from India. The identification was confirmed by another European expert, Zsolt Balint.

Roobas is supervisor of the Butterfly House at Al Noor Island, Sharjah, a property developed by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq). Feulner is chairman of the Dubai Natural History Group. The two have earlier produced an introductory catalogue of UAE spiders and have reported two other butterfly species that were newly-recorded in the Emirates, as well as the return of mudskippers (an amphibious fish) to the UAE after an apparent absence of almost twenty years. Both are also past recipients of the Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Al Nahyan Annual Award for natural history.

Roobas said, "It's always interesting to explore the natural environment of the UAE. A lot is now known, but there is still plenty to be learned. I never go out without seeing something new or different."

Feulner added, "Our butterfly study is just the latest example of the long history of significant contributions to knowledge of the flora and fauna of the UAE made by resident amateur researchers, working mostly at their own expense and generally with minimal institutional support."