Grassland or Chequered Copper Butterfly Lucia limbaria is endemic to Australia and occurs in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. While widespread, it is nowhere common, and is rated Rare in South Australia. This is largely because in disturbed grassland / pasture the caterpillar hostplant Oxalis struggles to survive amongst aggressive introduced grass species.
Prior to 2011 this species was last recorded on the Adelaide Plains from a single specimen in the SA Museum, from Parkside in 1967. Prior to that it was collected at: Plympton, 1938; Parkside, 1942; Kensington, 1900.
In February 2011, this butterfly was found at the southern end of Victoria Park (in the Adelaide Park Lands) and its survival in this location is remarkable.
Adelaide Park Lands Preservation Association had been instumental in the establishment of a Conservation area of remnant vegetation in Victoria Park. Butterfly Conservation South Australia (BCSA) has lobbied further to protect the area adjacent to this conservation zone, which held the habitat for L. limbaria. Concerned landcarers, including BCSA and the South Park Lands Landcare Group, carried out habitat protection and restoration in this area and other parts of the Parklands.
It is a distinctive butterfly, with the upper surface of the wings coloured orange in the central and basal area of the wings, with dark brown borders. This brown border area is far more extensive in the female butterfly, which also has more rounded margins than the males.
The underside is whitish in colour with a few small brown and orange spots. The wing expanse is around 23 to 25 mm in size, though occasional larger females have been seen.
This butterfly needs the right ant to be present to form colonies on its chosen larval food plants, the small Sorrel plants: the Native Sorrel Oxalis perennans and the introduced Yellow Wood-sorrel Oxalis corniculata.
The ants are small black Iridomyrmex species, which can be common in lawns and gardens.
Eggs are laid in batches of between two and twenty on the underside of leaves. Ants soon find the baby caterpillars and within days they are resident within an ant nest except when feeding, which they may do several times in the day, constantly attended by ants. The caterpillars eat the flowers and soft green parts of the plants.
The chrysalis is formed within the ant nest, from where the butterfly emerges after about 12 days.
What can I do?
In gardens near natural areas containing open grassland - grow a patch of Native Sorrel and encourage ants into the area by leaving some open spaces around these plants. If you do this and are very lucky, this superb metallic copper butterfly may come to breed.
Call to Action:
If you have an interest in the conservation and management of remnant vegetation in the Adelaide Parklands and, in particular, if you would like the existing conservation area in Victoria Park extended south and west to include the habitats of this rare butterfly Lucia limbaria, its host plant Oxalis perennans and attendant ant Iridomyrmex spp.
Write to: the Lord Mayor of Adelaide; the Minister for Environment, the Chief Executive officer of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, and the Federal Environment Minister.
Further information can be found at:
http://www.butterflygardening.net.au/resources.htm http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/Australia%20-%20 Lucia%20limbaria.htm
This article is based on materials prepared and supplied by Jan Forrest, for Butterfly Conservation South Australia Inc.