The story of the El Segundo Blue butterfly (Euphilotes battoides allyni) is a testimony to what's good about the US Endangered Species Act. Hanging on by a thread since the late seventies, the tiny butterfly was only found on three small reserves. Removal of ice plant, an invasive alien species, and replanting of native dune grasses has provided shelter, food and a place for the butterflies to lay their eggs.
The Endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly
One of the early species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act this butterfly is only found within the El Segundo Dunes habitat. Limited to three sites, one near Los Angeles International Airport, another near a refinery and one less developed area at Malaga Cove on the Palos Verdes peninsula, the pressure for expansion in the area could have resulted in extinction of the species.
The El Segundo blue is completely dependent on seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parviflorum). The butterfly lays its eggs in the buckwheat, the larvae feed on the flowers and the pupae develop underneath it. But where the native dunes were disturbed, invasive alien species such as ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) had taken over, as had another type of buckwheat that the El Segundo blue butterfly is unable to feed on.
The Dune Restoration Project
One of the key aspects of the Endangered Species Act is that when a species is listed, critical habitat must be protected. In many cases restoration of habitat is necessary for a species to recover. This was the case for the El Segundo blue butterfly.
Travis Longcore, an assistant research professor at the University of Southern California, who heads up the El Segundo Blue Butterfly work at USC, realized that until the dunes were cleared of invasive plants and native plant species were restored the butterflies would be unable to be reintroduced to other parts of their former range.
He teamed up with a local resident, Ann Dalkey and the Beach Bluffs Restoration Project was born. The group, made up of local volunteers and at risk youngsters, removed the invasive species and restored the butterfly's seacliff buckwheat. Additional native plants were also restored to provide a healthy ecosystem for the butterfly and other native wildlife species.
After the dune restoration was complete, it was assumed that the El Segundo blue butterfly would have to be reintroduced to the area. Common wisdom from other researchers indicated that the butterflies would not travel far enough to reach the restored dunes.
But the butterflies had apparently not read the research. They found their way to the restored habitat on their own and have established a thriving colony. If the species had not been listed as endangered, development would have permanently destroyed this fragile habitat, eliminating the El Segundo blue butterfly and other native species.
Learn about the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly, another species threatened by human activities.
Photo Credit: Lance Nix & Cromwell