The Tanana Arctic is a hybrid species of butterfly discovered in the harsh Alaskan tundra.
Alaska has some unforgiving territory and for a butterfly to survive there is pretty incredible. The Tanana Arctic is a hybrid butterfly that lives in the forests of Tanana-Yukon River Basin in central Alaska. They have a short lifespan coming out of their cocoons in May and then dying off by July, like many cold-weather insects that live in places with short summers.
Interestingly enough, the Tanana Arctic butterfly was categorized in 1955 and a specimen was on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History. But it was categorized as a Chryxus Arctic butterfly, which was incorrect. When scientists looked closer they realized it was an entirely “new” species of butterfly possibly endemic to the Alaskan tundra.
“To me it was surprising that no one had noticed this before,” says Andrew Warren, a study author and lepidopterist (butterfly expert) at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
The butterfly is a hybrid of two other species of butterfly, the Chryxus Arctic and the White-veined Arctic butterfly, that live in the region and is the first-discovered butterfly specimen in the last 28 years. It can survive the cold because of a natural anti-freeze that its body produces.
Warren will return to the Yukon-Tanana basins come summer to do some field work and collect Tanana Arctic specimens.
“New butterflies are not discovered very often in the U.S. because our fauna is relatively well-known,” Warren said. “There are around 825 species recorded from the U.S. and Canada. But with the complex geography in the western U.S., there are still going to be some surprises.”