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Blue Butterflies was First to go Extinct in the US, Confirm Scientists

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.

Habitat conversion and urban development caused the loss of this species. The Xerces blue butterfly has become an icon for insect conservation. The largest insect conservation organization is even named after this species. Scientists have long questioned if Xerces was a distinct species or a subspecies or an isolated population of another type of butterfly, the silvery blue that lives across the western United States and Canada.Moreau, who began working on this as a researcher at Chicago’s Field Museum, and her colleagues turned to museums to answer the question. The new study was published Tuesday in the journal Biology Letters.What makes this so groundbreaking is that we can address questions that cannot be answered any other way.

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.

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