BOGOTA – The 3,300 butterfly species that live in the jungles of Orinoquia, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the rainy Choco region and the green Andes mountains make Colombia a land of butterflies.
A new book, “Colombia, pais de mariposas” (Colombia, Country of Butterflies), presented by Villegas Editores at the Bogota International Book Fair, describes the beauty of these insects, which experts consider an “evolutionary success” story after 250 million years on the planet.
Some experts even contend that if humanity were to disappear, butterflies would continue to exist as proof of their high level of sophistication despite their apparent fragility.
Thankfully, Colombia’s diverse landscapes make it the ideal home for the most highly evolved insects on the planet.
“The varied landscapes in Colombia allow it to have a variety of plants and, as a result, butterflies,” biologist Indiana Cristobal Rios-Malaver told EFE.
Currently, there are 3,300 confirmed species in the country and thanks to the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, experts expect to soon best Peru’s record of 4,000 butterfly species and become the country with the most Lepidoptera in the world.
Finding the insects is a matter of patience, according to Rios-Malaver, a student of naturalist Jesus Hernan Velez, with whom he co-authored “Colombia, pais de mariposas.”
For five years, the scientists traveled regularly into the field to find, classify and photograph butterflies.
By that point, they were already in love with the striking color patterns on the insects’ wings.
The iridescent tones and multiple patterns “are interesting because they are part of the aesthetics of the landscape to the point that their metamorphosis has inspired humans throughout history,” Rios-Malaver said.
The book discusses the discovery of a trunk in Berlin in 2006 that belonged to German explorer Arnold Schultze, who visited Colombia between 1920 and 1928.
The German expert shipped a trunk filled with 46 cigar boxes containing 18,000 carefully preserved specimens of Colombian moths and butterflies before setting sail from the Brazilian port of Belem on the Inn, a ship sunk south of the Canary Islands by the British light cruiser Neptune two days after World War II started in 1939.
Velez and Rios-Malaver retraced the explorer’s steps with the help of national and foreign collaborators, and determined that the presence of butterflies proves that a habitat is healthy since the insects play an important role in pollination and serve as food for other species.
The longest butterfly lifespan recorded was 333 days in the Colombian highlands among the native Neopedaliodes Zipa species.
This butterfly species, however, is endangered due to urbananizaton and the cutting down of forests for ranching.