BBSRC-funded researcher Lizzie Cant has attached tiny radar transponders, weighing only about 12mg (4-8% of body weight), to peacock or small tortoiseshell butterflies. This allows her to use harmonic radar to track the butterfly's position accurately up to 1km away. Previous studies had to use visual observation (difficult over 50m) or indirect mark-recapture techniques.
Butterflies were tracked undertaking fast, directed flights to potential feeding sites or interspersing periods of foraging with looping "orientation" flights. Knowing how butterflies navigate can help us understand how capable they are of maintaining sustainable populations in our increasingly fragmented countryside.
Lizzie Cant said, "Butterflies are important pollinators, providing a crucial service to plants in many ecosystems. This research will help us to understand a little more about how they survive in a countryside that is becoming more and more fragmented."
Contact: Matt Goode
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council