The first insect to go Extinct due to humans, a blue butterfly has become an icon for insect conservation and what happens when humans destroy habitats without thought for the creatures living in them.The last of the Xerces blue butterflies fluttered through the air in San Francisco in the early 1940s. Now, they can only be seen in glass displays at museums.
These periwinkle pearly-winged insects lived in the coastal dunes along with San Francisco and were first characterized by scientists in 1852. When urban development swept through this part of California, the sandy soils were disturbed. This caused a ripple effect, wiping out species of the plant the Xerces caterpillars used. The habitat change was too great for the Xerces blue butterfly, and the species went Extinct.
This study is an example of this since we cannot go out and collect the Xerces blue butterfly and the only way to address genetic questions about this species is by turning to museum collections. The Field Museum is home to multiple specimens of the Xerces blue butterfly. So, Moreau and her colleagues decided to extract DNA from a 93-year-old butterfly specimen in the museum’s collection and see if it met the conditions for belonging to a unique species.