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Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy


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Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy
Abrahams, H., Mulvaney, M., Glasco, D., & Bugg, A.
Office of the Co-ordinator General of Queensland
Australian Heritage Commission, March 1995

Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

14.0 Areas of Significance for Butterflies

The identification and documentation of areas of significance for butterflies has been prepared by Peter Valentine (James Cook University) and Steven Johnson (Queensland Dept. of Primary Industry), in response to a request from the AHC. Their report forms the basis of this section. There are many unpublished records included in this section of the CYPLUS report and intellectual property rights are hereby asserted, by Valentine and Johnson.

This section of the report is based on a combination of published sources and personal experience of the butterfly fauna on Cape York Peninsula. The latter derives from very many field visits to a wide range of sites commencing in 1976 and continuing to the present. Notes within the document refer primarily to sites personally visited under varying conditions but where possible these have been supplemented by reference to the observations of others. A complete bibliography of butterfly fauna records from Cape York Peninsula has not yet been prepared but relatively recent records of published observations are given. The notes do not refer to Torres Strait Islands for which there are additional records of significance including several species not known from elsewhere in Australia. Common and Waterhouse (1981) has been used as the primary source for taxonomy but where generally accepted revisions have been undertaken the more recent names have been employed. Published references are listed in the bibliography, and at Appendix 5.

Research into the butterfly fauna of Cape York Peninsula has been mainly concerned with the tasks of inventory and habitat association. Some workers have also contributed significantly to knowledge about particular species, especially descriptions of life history details and some behavioural observations. In many instances work on the butterflies of Cape York Peninsula has uncovered details not known about particular species even when those species also occur elsewhere. Few butterflies are entirely confined to Cape York Peninsula but some have been first described from locations on the Peninsula or, more frequently, their presence within Australia first discovered on Cape York Peninsula.

At the present time there appear to be approximately 223 species of butterflies on Cape York Peninsula. These are divided amongst the families as shown in Table 14.1.

Table 14.1: Family distribution of butterfly species known from Cape York Peninsula

FAMILY                  CYP # SPP                AUST # SPP              
LYCAENIDAE              80                       140                     
LIBYTHEIDAE             1                        1                       
NYMPHALIDAE             49                       85                      
PIERIDAE                24                       34                      
PAPILIONIDAE            14                       18                      
HESPERIIDAE             55                       115                     
TOTALS                  223                      393                     

It is clear from this that about 57% of all Australian species are present on Cape York Peninsula. A very few of these are known from extremely limited sightings (for example Hasora celaenus (Hesperiidae) and Appias albina (Pieridae). Others which do have limited museum records are readily found in the wild but at relatively inaccessible times or places.

The first part of this rapid survey identifies some key locations which are clearly of very high value for butterfly conservation. The second part identifies specific fauna which may be of conservation importance. Limited time has been available for this survey and the results are therefore more indicative and selective rather than definitive. A more comprehensive analysis would require more time and additional fieldwork. For extensive areas of Cape York Peninsula information is sparse for butterfly fauna and field studies will be needed to clarify this situation. Some locations requiring field studies include most of the western parts of the Peninsula (other than Weipa); the Olive River area; Strake Range; McIlwraith Range and central sandstone areas such as Battle Camp Range and the Laura Quinkan country.

This section of the report sets out an interim set of places considered by the authors to be of high conservation value for the butterfly fauna of Cape York Peninsula. These places have been identified for the distinctive characteristics of their environment; their history of entomological studies; their accessibility or simply their familiarity to the authors. It is recognised that there will be many poorly known areas on the Peninsula which may have considerable conservation value for butterflies but which are not identified in this report. It is recommend that conservation agencies encourage surveys to further advance knowledge of the conservation values of butterflies. This report does identify the key locations known for all the endemic and less well known species of Cape York Peninsula, which are shown on Figure 14.1.

14.1 Important Places

14.1.1 Lockerbie Scrub.

This area is poorly studied by entomologists but even so has some key records including the only mainland Australian records for the Papua New Guinea Morphinae subfamily (Nymphalidae). Two recent records confirm a 1916 record of Taenaris artemis, and both of these are from Lockerbie, the most recent June 1990. Other relatively uncommon species include Libythea geoffroy (Libytheidae), [from Somerset]; Acrodipsas melania (Lycaenidae) [unspecified "Cape York"]; Chaetocneme critomedia (Hesperiidae); Hypochrysops theon (Lycaenidae); Hypochrysops apollo (Lycaenidae); Hypochrysops elgneri (Lycaenidae); Philiris diana (Lycaenidae); Deudorix epirus (Lycaenidae); Petrelaea tombugensis (cf P. dana ), Lycaenidae; Ionolyce helicon (Lycaenidae); Erisychton palmyra (Lycaenidae); Danis danis (Lycaenidae); Catochrysops amasea (early records), Lycaenidae; Pithecops dionisius (Lycaenidae); Neopithecops lucifer [only mainland record], Lycaenidae; Praetaxila segecia (Lycaenidae).

There are many other interesting records from this area and the forests provide habitat for a large number of species across all families of butterflies. Generally the habitat is in reasonable condition.

14.1.2 Heathlands Area.

This patch of heathland plus rainforest is the location for the only Australian records of Lexias aeropa (Nymphalidae). These records were in the mid 1970's (see Monteith & Kerr, 1977) and have not been repeated, mainly due to limited collecting at this location. More recently the little known species Praetaxila segecia was recorded here (5.11.91), the only member of the subfamily Riodinae (family Lycaenidae) known in Australia (see Valentine & Johnson, 1992). The habitat also provides intermediate locations for many other species found in CYP rainforest patches.

Other associated areas include the Shelburne Bay dune fields and lakes (poorly known) and the Olive River (no surveys of butterfly fauna undertaken). Both these sites, but especially the latter, should be subject to inventory in the future.

14.1.3 Iron Range Area

This is undoubtedly a critical location for butterfly diversity in Cape York Peninsula. Several species of butterflies are only known from this location and other relatively rare species also occur here. Despite the attention of numerous entomologists over the years many species known from Iron Range remain poorly understood with regard to either habitat requirements or life history details. The life histories of eight of the ten species confined to Iron Range remain unknown.

It is suspected that at least some of these are canopy insects which will require specialised effort to uncover details of their behaviour and reproductive strategies. Because other areas which may be comparable have been poorly studied (eg Lockerbie and the McIlwraith Range) it is likely that species now only known from Iron Range will later be found elsewhere.

Butterflies restricted to this location in mainland Australia are as follows:

Lycaenidae family:                    Pieridae family:                     
Hypochrysops hippuris                 Elodina claudia                      
Hypochrysops cleon                                                       
Philiris ziska titeus                 Hesperiidae family:                  
Philiris azula                        Mimene atropatene                    
Jamides cytus claudia                 Rachelia extrusa                     
Allora major major                   
Nymphalidae family:                                                      
Charaxes latona                                                          
Apaturina erminea                                                        

Due to the lack of field research at other sites it remains likely that at least some of these species will be subsequently located elsewhere. From the records of Valentine and Johnson (1985) there are at least 200 species of butterflies known from the Iron Range area and these represent a high proportion of each of the families. Many species of butterflies which are mainly confined to the Peninsula or appear relatively uncommon or are little known are also recorded from Iron Range and these are listed in table 14.2.

14.1.4 Mt White, Coen.

This location has provided data on distribution and life history for many relatively rare species of butterflies. The topography of the hill appears to fit it very well as a prime hill-topping site for butterflies. In addition, the rocky areas seem to protect patches of vine thicket vegetation, the source of larval food plants for many species of CYP butterflies. The hill has attracted the attention of entomologists for many years and a good appreciation of the associated fauna has been developed. Amongst the relatively uncommon species known from this hilltop are the following.

Lycaenidae family:

Acrodipsas melania

Acrodipsas hirtipes [also at other sites and in the NT]

Hypochrysops polycletus

Libytheidae family:

Libythea geoffroy nicevillei (location where its life-history was first discovered; see Valentine & Johnson, 1989)

Papilionidae family:

Graphium aristeus parmatum (location where its life-history was first discovered; see Valentine & Johnson, 1989). [This species can be abundant]

Hesperidae family:

Allora doleschallii [Now well known, common]

Table 14.2 Uncommon Butterfly Species of the Iron Range Area

Hesperiidae  family:                        Notes                               
Allora doleschallii doleschallii            [Widespread, common]                
Chaetocneme denitza                         [Widespread]                        
Chaetocneme critomedia sphinterifera        [Widespread]                        
Toxidia inornata                            [Also at Rocky River]               
Telicota brachydesma                        [Widespread, little known]          
Borbo cinnara                                                                   

Pieridae  family:                                                               
Eurema candida virgo                        [Common, McIlwraith also]           
Delias mysis waterhousei                    [Common]                            
Delias ennia tindalii                                                           
Delias aruna inferna                        [Common at times]                   
Delias nysa nivira                                                              
Appias ada caria                            [Common at times]                   

Nymphalidae  family:                                                            
Hypocysta angustata angustata               [Common]                            
Pantoporia venilia moorei                   [Common]                            
Hypolimnas anomola albula                                                       

Libytheidae  family:                                                            
Libythea geoffroy nicevillei                [Can be common in wet season]       

Lycaenidae  family:                                                             
Hypochrysops theon medocus                  [CY-McIlwraith, Common]             
Hypochrysops apollo phoebus                 [CY-McIlwraith, Common]             
Hypochrysops elgneri barnardi               [also at Rocky River]               
Philiris diana papuana                      [also at Rocky River]               
Deudorix epirus agimar                                                          
Candalides consimilis toza                                                      
Petrelaea tombugensis                                                           
Ionolyce helicon hyllus                     [can be common at Lockerbie]        
Danis danis syrius                          [can be common at Lockerbie]        
Catochrysops amasea amasea                                                      
Pithecops dionisius dionisius               [also at Rocky River]               
Praetaxila segecia punctaria                [widespread but little known]       

14.1.5 Vine Thicket Communities (riparian and other isolated pockets throughout Cape York Peninsula).

Most of these communities support an important element of the Cape York Peninsula butterfly fauna including species which appear restricted to these communities. Vine thickets may be especially important for the survival of some species in the western and central part of the Peninsula. Restricted species include:

Hesperiidae: Allora doleschallii

Papilionidae: Graphium aristeus parmatum

Libytheidae: Libythea geoffroy nicevillei

Lycaenidae: Hypochrysops polycletus

Many other widespread species require this habitat for reproduction or at least take advantage of its presence for localised breeding. Survival of the many patches of vine thickets may be critical in maintaining connections between disjunct breeding populations. Very few are formally protected although most may not be under threat. Further study is needed.

14.1.6 Rocky River area, Silver Plains, McIlwraith Range.

This is a very important location and supports some interesting and little known species:

Hesperiidae: Chaetocneme critomedia (southern limit)

Lycaenidae: Hypochrysops theon cretatus (local endemic subspecies and type locality)

Hypochrysops elgneri (southern limit, unknown life history)

Philiris diana papuana (southern limit, few records elsewhere)

Pithecops dionisius dionisius (southern limit, recent discovery)

Lycaenidae: Riodininae subfamily: Praetaxila segecia (southern limit, unknown life history, few records)

Given the nature of the habitat types represented and the limited study at these sites, it is expected that further evidence of the importance of this area will emerge in time. It should also be noted that even the western part of the McIlwraith Range is poorly studied and the main range itself has been rarely visited by any entomologists. This entire block of forest should be included in future field inventory programs.

14.1.7 Lakefield National Park.

Riparian thickets along lagoon and stream edges including dense stands of Strychnos lucida (Loganiaceae). The fruits on these trees support a large population of the Lycaenidae butterfly Virachola democles. The population in this Park is at times extremely abundant. The butterfly occurs widely throughout the Peninsula south to Undara Crater.

14.1.8 Sandstone outcrops in the Laura area.

The outcrops include areas 20 km west of Fairview, other outcrops 10 km south of Laura, Henderson Range and Battle Camp Range. The Fairview site butterflies include:

Lycaenidae: Zetona delospila

Hesperiidae: Trapezites macqueeni

The Laura south site has populations of Proeidosa polysema (Hesperiidae). There is an unconfirmed sighting of a Nesolycaena species in this area, almost certainly an undescribed species. Further field study is needed.

14.1.9 Isabella Falls area, NW of Cooktown.

This area has some fascinating butterflies of surprising diversity and distinctiveness. These include:

Lycaenidae: Philiris sp (new species for Australia; description in prep.)

Hypochrysops apollo (considerably inland record of rare butterfly)

Hypochrysops miskini (northernmost record, significant disjunction)

Pseudodipsas cephenes (ditto)

Hesperiidae: Telicota brachydesma (rare species)

Telicota eurotas (inland location, relatively uncommon)

Other species of rainforest and open forest affiliations (the latter includes Trapezites macqueeni and Proeidosa polysema [both Hesperiidae]). It is almost certain that further interesting butterfly records will emerge after field surveys to the north of this area. Starke Range has not been surveyed and clearly deserves exploration. The McIvor River riparian rainforests are known to include the undescribed Philiris species and it is likely this species occurs further north in the Starke Range. Further studies are needed of these areas.

14.1.10 Mangrove communities along Endeavour River.

These mangroves support major a population of ant-plants and associated with them are a significant colony of the vulnerable species Hypochrysops apollo. This population appears to be closest to the southern vulnerable subspecies. In the same location are large colonies of H. narcissus and H. apelles.

14.1.11 Mangrove and fringing Melaleuca communities on the south side of the Annan River.

This area has a population of Hypochrysops apollo on ant-plants. It also has populations of Ogyris aenone (Lycaenidae) together with two other jewel butterflies (H. narcissus and H. apelles ).

14.1.12 Jardine River Rainforests.

This is one of the few locations entomologists have deliberately investigated and for which a published list of species has been produced. The environments were mainly riparian rainforests and associated vegetation and access to these upper reaches of the river was by canoe. Results were published by Moulds and d'Apice (1982) and illustrate some of the interesting fauna in these locations.

14.2 Concluding Comments

The western parts of Cape York Peninsula have been little studied by butterfly researchers and the fauna and habitat relationships are therefore poorly known. In general, distinctive faunal elements are likely to be found in riparian forests; coastal environments including sand dunes and mangroves; patches of vine thickets, especially those associated with higher ground; sandstone outcrop areas with fire-protected flora; healthy natural grasslands and swamps; broad eucalypt and other woodlands with associated grasses.

Overall the butterfly fauna of Cape York Peninsula is reasonably well known at the crude inventory level but considerable gaps in knowledge relate to three main aspects:

a) basic knowledge for many species of general habitat preferences, life-history strategies and associated interactions with plants and other insects;

b) the distribution patterns across the majority of the Peninsula areas, which have been poorly studied by entomologists; and

c) the effects of changed management practices on the survival of species including those which may be relatively widespread.

It would be appropriate for conservation agencies to consider more specialised target surveys and other research to fill in the gaps listed above.

14.3 Notes on the Locations Identified

'Iron Range' refers to the area immediately surrounding the Claudie River and Gordon Creek rainforests including Lamond and Phillip Hills. Most of the area is included in National Park. Various records and labels for butterflies incorporate a number of "locations" here treated as one. Thus the label "Claudie River" is not significantly different from "Iron Range". In this sense the location "Iron Range" really covers an area with a diameter of about 10 - 15 km. Most of the more interesting records are centred on the locations Philip Hill, Lamond Hill and Gordon Creek, an area with a diameter of perhaps 4 - 5 km and at the eastern margin of the greater "Iron Range" location. Locations identified as "West Claudie" or "Mt Tozer" are on the far western edge of the Iron Range area (sensu latu).

'Lockerbie' refers to mainly rainforest habitats to the north east of Bamaga near Cape York and Somerset. This also covers an extensive area, perhaps 10 km or more in diameter. The main connecting road from Bamaga to Cape York goes through these forests and there is a junction with a side road to Somerset. The environment is mainly rainforest although it includes patches of other communities.

'Heathlands' is an area of rainforest and heath vegetation now under Qld Government tenure. It is sometimes known by discrete locations such as the "Y junction" and Captain Billy Landing. The main areas known to be of interest for butterflies are the rainforests.

'Rocky River' refers to the southern and eastern boundary of the McIlwraith Range, accessible through Silver Plains station and including country to the north of the Massey River as far as Nesbit River. This supports riparian rainforest with extensive melaleuca woodlands adjacent to them. In places, poorly drained areas support vine thickets and rainforest patches and these are also important. Further up the river courses, especially the Rocky River, there is extensive rainforest and this supports a range of butterflies. There is presumed to be continuity between these rainforests and those on the western flanks of the McIlwraith Range which is another area of high conservation value for butterflies. This latter includes the Peach River area and higher elevation sites through to the Leo Creek area on the east of the range. Only a tiny part of this range has been studied.

A fairly comprehensive modern bibliography has been prepared and follows. Appendix 5 to this report includes a list of all species found only or primarily from Cape York Peninsula.