Can these butterflies fill the gap left by their extinct relative?

Biologists released silvery blue butterflies in an area once occupied by the Xerces blue

Biologists have released dozens of silvery blue butterflies in San Francisco in hopes that they can occupy in the niche once filled by their iconic but extinct predecessor.

The Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces) disappeared in the 1940s as development carved into its habitat. Exploring the genetics of the long-lost pollinator, researchers found the silvery blue butterfly (G. lygdamus) is closely related and could help fill an ecological gap left by the Xerces blue’s disappearance.

“This isn’t a Jurassic Park-style de-extinction project, but it will have a major impact,” project leader Durrell Kapan, a senior research fellow for the California Academy of Sciences, said in a news release. “The silvery blue will act as an ecological ‘stand-in’ for the Xerces blue, performing the same ecosystem functions as both a pollinator and a critical member of the food web.”

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Header Image: Biologists released silvery blue butterflies to fill a gap left with the extinction of its close relative, the Xerces blue butterfly. Credit: Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences