Once-extinct Caterpillars Hatch at Chester Zoo

By: Janet Lee

Conservationists from Chester Zoo have hatched 150 incredibly rare 1mm-long caterpillars. They are planned for release into the wild across parts of north west England, where they have been extinct for a century. Here’s how the once-extinct species has hope for being a common sight across England again.

Earlier this month, conservationists at Chester Zoo succeeded in breeding a caterpillar species that had been extinct in England since the 1800s. These newly hatched large heath caterpillars, only a couple millimeters long, will soon make their way back to their natural habitat in Manchester and Cheshire.

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Large heath butterflies were once common across the British isles. But in the recent 200 years, they have lost their colonies in Manchester’s wet mosslands that were drained and converted to farmland. As the land dried, this also caused a loss of food plants for butterflies, resulting in a cascade of wildlife disappearance.

“Few people realize that the butterflies we might see in our gardens, forests, and mosslands across the UK are heavily under threat, with many species disappearing from their last strongholds throughout England,” said Ben Baker, Team Manager of the Chester Zoo butterfly team.

Baker and his team have relocated these newborns to their specially designed habitats at the zoo. He explains that they will hibernate over the winter, pupate next year, and emerge as butterflies in summer.

“Although miniscule in size at the moment, we’ll watch them grow and grow in our care over the course of the year, wishing them farewell in the spring,” he said. “It is an amazing privilege to play a part in embarking these rare caterpillars on their journey, returning the species to their historic home.”

Source: Chester Zoo. The Chester Zoo supports conservationists and conservation projects across the United Kingdom to prevent the extinction of unique and endangered species, safeguarding diverse and healthy ecosystems.

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