A survey of the butterflies of Milne Bay Province islands, which started in 2010 by British entomologist John Tennent, Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum in London, is in its final phase.
Tennent returned to the province last October and plans to stay until the project is completed in April this year.
He has recently returned from the eastern Louisiades, where he surveyed islands not previously visited, including Lowa Island, east of Rossel and the most-easterly island in Papua New Guinea. He also looked at the small island groups at the western end of the Calvados chain, south and west of Misima (Duchateau, Montemont, Jomard, Duperre, Torlesse groups), finding butterfly species previously unknown from Milne Bay on Panavalavalan (small Panasia) and the Torlesse group.
Tennent, who has now visited 134 different islands in Milne Bay, said “There are more different butterflies on the islands than anyone realised when I started the survey – probably 260 or so, and many are more widely-distributed than previously understood. Although there are more than 1,000 species known from Papua New Guinea as a whole, this is a very respectable number for the islands”.
British High Commissioner to PNG, Jackie Barson, said the discovery of more than 260 different butterflies on the outer islands underlines again PNG’s reputation as a world biodiversity hotspot.
“The fact that these tiny islands scattered all over the tip of PNG have an abundance of wildlife is amazing and emphasises the need for more conservation programmes,” she added.
There are a few more islands to visit by Tennent before finalising the project, which will result in the first book devoted to the butterflies of Milne Bay Province islands.
This will illustrate all the butterfly species and subspecies known from the islands and be the major reference work on the region for the foreseeable future.
The project is funded by the National Geographic Society in America, the Natural History Museum, Royal Entomological and Linnean Societies in England, and private funding.
It is also supported by the University of Papua New Guinea, the National Research Institute and the Department of Environment and Conservation.
The last person to carry out a comprehensive butterfly research on Milne Bay island was A.S. Meek, an English collector in the early days of the 20th century.