The Butterfly Saved By An Airport   1 comment

Eriogonum latifolium (coast buckwheat) thrives near the coastal sand dunes.

Eriogonum latifolium (coast buckwheat) thrives near the coastal sand dunes.

As Los Angeles development surged in the early 20th century, a little blue butterfly was slowly being exterminated. The El Segundo Blue Butterfly (Euphilotes battoides allyni) was put on the endangered species list as it began to slip away to extinction.

In 1925, a developer held a contest to name their new beachside community, and Surfridge was born. The community flourished in the 30s, and the new residents tore out the native vegetation and planted the lawns and trees common in any development. Unfortunately, that pushed out the native species. But then a funny thing happened: the jet engine was born, and nearby LAX made Surfridge virtually uninhabitable.

Los Angeles World Airports, AKA LAX, slowly began to buy up Surfridge homes, until the entire community was abandoned in the 70s. LAX took down the houses, street lights and non-native vegetation, and began to re-plant native plants like the coast buckwheat.

El Segundo Blue Butterfly, Euphilotes battoide...

El Segundo Blue Butterfly, Euphilotes battoides allyni (Photo credit: stonebird)

And just like that, the El Segundo Blue began to rebound. The butterflies didn’t mind the noise, apparently. LAX continued to expand their butterfly sanctuary in exchange for continued expansion of the airport. That process is ongoing: the California Coastal Commission recently OK’d a $3-million plan to expand the coast buckwheat plantings on portions of 48 acres at the northern end of the old subdivision as part of a settlement of a lawsuit over LAX expansion plans.

This effort to re-install native species around Santa Monica Bay has caught on.  Since 2003, native vegetation reintroduction along the coastal bluffs of Redondo Beach and Torrance has been conducted by residents, conservationists, government officials, and representatives from two nonprofit groups, The Urban Wildlands Group and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps Science, Education, and Adventure Lab program.

That has resulted in the El Segundo Blue doing something that the wildlife experts didn’t think it could do: it flew over 1,000′ of non-native backyard plants to get to the new coast buckwheat plantings in Redondo Beach & Torrance.

Don’t you love it when that happens?  Butterflies gotta eat, and they flew to get to the good eats.

In fact, the El Segundo Blue depends on the coast buckwheat throughout all 4 stages of its life: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Unfortunately, the plant is still facing competition from several non-native species, including certain acacia, grass, and ice plant species.

For a native species like the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, you must provide coast buckwheat, or we’ll lose this pretty 1″ blue butterfly forever.

This is why I’ve committed to planting more native species in my yard. If you want native animal species to thrive, you must provide them with a native habitat. If you don’t provide the right habitat, then you might as well pave the back yard with concrete. I’m too far from the ocean to help with the El Segundo Blue, but I can help those species that need Southern Oak Woodland plants like Matilija Poppy, the Scarlet Columbine or Saint Catherine’s Lace.

What can you do?


LA Times 2009 Photo Gallery

LA Times: Aflutter in a ghost town

US Fish & Wildlife Service: Two Butterflies

Science Centric: Back From The Edge Of Extinction

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