Dozens of Rare Butterflies Sighted in Jerusalem Area Park

The T. nesimachus is one of 14 species of butterfly that are protected in Israel

The T. nesimachus which was found at the Castel National Park near Jerusalem.
Liad Cohen / Nature Authority

Dozens of individuals from a locally endangered species of butterfly were spotted Monday outside Jerusalem.

Last weekend the Israeli Lepidopterists Society held a “happening” near Kibbutz Ramot Menashe, in northern Israel, in honor of Tomares nesimachus. The high point of the event was an off-road search for members of the rare species. Sadly, only one was spotted.

But on Monday, rangers at Castel National Park, near Jerusalem, reported spotting dozens of the creatures.

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A T. nesimachus butterfly.
Liad Cohen / Nature Authority

Until recently it seemed that T. nesimachus had survived only in a few places in Israel and only in very small numbers.

The female lays her eggs on buds of the milk vetch; the caterpillars develop inside the plant’s fruit. Gilad Weil, of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s science division, who took part in the weekend event, decided to check whether the butterfly had settled in a cluster of milk vetch at Castel National Park, the scene of a historic battle in the 1948 War of Independence. When he arrived there he found a T. nesimachus on almost every other flower. “I was in shock. We know there are butterflies in the Jerusalem area but usually there are only a few,” he said.

According to Dubi Binyamini of the Israeli Lepidopterists Society, the Castel discovery is very significant. “Six people surveyed Ramot Menashe for a few days, even before the event took place, and found only one individual. There’s a cluster of milk vetch near the graves of Ariel Sharon and his wife [in the Negev] that we also surveyed and didn’t find a single one,” he said.

The T. nesimachus butterfly in Israel.
Liad Cohen / Nature Authority

Binyamini says the populations of T. nesimachus are small and cut off from one another, which endangers the future of the species. He believes that one of the reasons for the small number in Ramot Menashe is the proximity of natural open spaces to agricultural areas were pesticides are in use.

“The sighting at Castel shows that we don’t always know everything,” Weil said. “After all, this group was right under our noses. It also shows the importance of maintaining small open spaces. The area at the Castel is only a few dozen dunams, and wasn’t even intended to conserve nature, but rather a heritage site. But because it’s managed properly, there are butterflies too,” he added.

Tomares nesimachus is one of 14 species of butterfly that are protected in Israel, and may not be harmed or trapped. The other species on this list are also endangered. The habitats where their host plants are found are under threat of development and construction. When the plants disappear, so will the butterflies, and so the lepidopterists society is fighting against construction plans like the one in Hadera, which threatens Apharitis cilissa, another endangered species.