The butterfly effect

Binoculars and butterfly nets: Hunting new species of butterflies is physically challenging but ultimately rewarding as Jane Faure-Brac reports.

Michael Braby finds himself on his hands and knees, nose literally to the ground, on a rocky escarpment in far north Australia. Centimetres away is a sheer drop of hundreds  
of metres.

He peers into curious tiny, spiny grass growing on the harshly exposed sandstone plateaux of the Top End. He’s hunting caterpillars.

The Honorary Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the ANU College of Science is a lepidopterist or butterfly expert. He has discovered not one, but two, species of butterfly that breed and feed on resurrection grasses (Micraira spp) which completely dry out for more than half of the year.

The sandstone grass-dart (Taractrocera psammopetra) and its closely related cousin, the rock grass-dart (Taractrocera ilia), are among several amazing finds Braby made in the course of his decade-long odyssey to document invertebrates in a largely unstudied swathe of land across northern Australia.