Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

New Philippine Butterfly Subspecies Is Discovered Thanks to a Field Guide

New Philippine Butterfly Subspecies Is Discovered Thanks to a Field Guide
Specimens of the new butterfly subspecies, A. p. nuydai. J. Badon

By Keith Anthony Fabro

Filipino lepidopterist Jade Aster T. Badon is accustomed to traveling to some of the remotest parts of the Philippines in search of new butterfly species. In August 2019, he made a discovery in a more unexpected place: a field guide he had published himself five years earlier.

In 2014, Badon even included an illustration of this Appias phoebe subspecies in a butterfly field guide and labeled it A. p. Montana, a known subspecies. This mistake, however, was what would reveal the butterfly's real identity years later.

It wasn't until August last year that Badon had an epiphany. While browsing the same book and after a closer look at the butterfly's wings, he noticed that unlike the true A. p. montana, this butterfly's forewing underside cell end spot was funnel-shaped.

"The one found in Mount Canlaon, A. p. montana, has circular forewings," says Badon, the president of the nonprofit research group Philippine Lepidoptera Butterflies, Inc. "I did not know that it was a new subspecies back then."

Specimens of the new butterfly subspecies, A. p. nuydai. J. Badon

He did some digging: he checked online and library resources and found no match for the then-unknown butterfly specimen. "What was more interesting is that in Negros Island, no [butterfly] specimens have been collected from Mount Talinis when I studied the specimens," he says in an email.

Badon and research partner Jacqueline Y. Miller of the University of Florida then published this "new discovery" in the peer-reviewed entomology journal Nachrichten des Entomologischen Vereins Apollo (NEVA).

Here, they unveiled the butterfly's new name: A. p. nuydai — after the Filipino painter, lepidopterist and naturalist Justin S. Nuyda, who pioneered butterfly studies in the Philippines.

A p. nuydai 's only known habitat, Mount Talinis, is a 23,564-hectare (58,228-acre) key biodiversity area in the southern part of Negros Island in the central Philippines, and is considered the province's "last frontier"; it hosts an old-growth forest thriving with thousands of wildlife species.

The newly renamed butterfly species is the latest addition to five A. phoebe subspecies found in Luzon, Mindanao, and the islands of Negros, Palawan and Mindoro. It's an island-specific subspecies of the Philippine-endemic Appias phoebe, first described by C. & R. Felder in 1861.

This butterfly species prefer the cool altitudes of mountain peaks, and A. p. nuydai is specific only to the peaks of Mount Talinis, where it was first seen flitting around Lake Nailig at an elevation of 1,578 meters (5,177 feet) in 2012.

In May that year, Badon, from Silliman University on Negros Island, obtained a research permit from the Philippines environment department to do a broader biodiversity study of Mount Talinis, a "potentially active" volcano. That's when he discovered the butterfly by surprise.

"We were camped on the shores of Lake Nailig," Badon says. "We woke up early to have breakfast, and as soon as the sun started rising, hitting the peaks of Mount Talinis, I noticed some yellow and white butterflies flying and puddling on the lakeshores near our camp. I grabbed my insect net and caught two specimens before we left the campground to trek back down to the city."

A.p. nuydai (above) was initially mislabeled as A. p. Montana (below), another subspecies of the Appias phoebe butterfly species that's endemic to the Philippines. J. Badon; A. p. montana image taken from Tsukada, et. al. (1985)

All the while, Badon was unaware it was a new subspecies. Its close resemblance to A. p. montana, another subspecies found only on neighboring Mount Canlaon, also on Negros Island, hid the butterfly's real identity for years despite Badon's trained eyes.

Since then, the specimens have been kept in a collection at the University of Florida's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, where Badon did his master's and doctoral studies in entomology and nematology from 2011 to 2018.

Studies point to climate change as possibly the biggest threat to high-elevation butterflies, which could change the distribution of this species.

"Some of the possible reasons on why they prefer higher elevation is that it is cooler," Badon says. "If climate change progresses in the area, making it warmer, this species will eventually fly to its preferred habitat. But if climate change worsens at a rapid pace, then there is a possibility that this species will have nowhere to go."

This raises the "need to study the high elevation butterflies to determine how they are adapting to the changing climate and environment," Badon says. "I hope to increase awareness on the importance of insects such as butterflies in the country since they are also great indicators of a healthy environment."

During their 2012 research expedition, Badon spotted only seven to 10 individuals of this subspecies; further studies are needed to determine its abundance in its only known habitat to be able to assess its conservation status.

"The peak of Mount Talinis still has forests and as long as it stays that way, the species will thrive," Badon says. "But I'm not sure how climate change will affect them."

Reposted with permission from Mongabay.

A replica of a titanosaur. AIZAR RALDES / AFP via Getty Images

New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Trump's Affordable Clean Energy rule eliminated a provision mandating that utilities move away from coal. VisionsofAmerica /Joe Sohm / Getty Images

A federal court on Tuesday struck down the Trump administration's rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Read More Show Less


A wild mink in Utah was the first wild animal in the U.S. found with COVID-19. Peter Trimming via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.

Read More Show Less
A mass methane release could begin an irreversible path to full land-ice melt. NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty Images

By Peter Giger

The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.

Read More Show Less
Doug Emhoff, U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Jill Biden and President-elect Joe Biden wave as they arrive on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.

Read More Show Less