The Butterfly DefectOngoing research project in collaboration with Vlinderstichting and NaturalisWith help of Fotodok Lighthouse team and MIAP Future of Nature
Easy to overlook, due to it’s size, but whenever you see them, pressed in your memory due to it’s magical blue color. Zigzagging they leave a trace in front of you, before quickly disappearing. The Alcon Blue. 30 years ago all the wet moors in the Netherlands were covered with them. A beautiful sight and with that an icon for our biodiversity.
The Alcon Blue is a special butterfly, a symbol of ‘interconnectedness’, a word Alexander von Humboldt once referred to as ‘the ideal connection in nature’ in his travel reports. The Alcon Blue is a butterfly that is depending on the bell gentian flower and myrmica ant to survive. Only by living in a cycle with these, the butterfly can exist. So, naturally if one of these connecting factors in the cycle disappears, the others disappear too. Due to the increased nitrogen deposition, natural areas are affected, and with this also the habitat of the Alcon blue, that slowly disappears.I remember seeing it about 17 years ago, walking with my parents down the Malpie*. I felt a sense of wonder, but with the disappearance of this butterfly, this memory of wonder disappeared. Until I saw them again early 2020, this time dead in wooden drawers in the Naturalis depot in Leiden, where they are cherished with a pin through their slender blue body. Now I walk down the Malpie again, some 17 years later, I don't see a single alcon blue, not a single bell gentian flower, nothing. Where there once were so many, this species has declined by 93% in the last 30 years. A blue face, familiar to us in the past, is slowly disappearing from our landscape, threatening to disappear from our collective memory.But while the Alcon Blue is slowly disappearing, a certain value is growing, a collective value that we all share. Streets have been named after the butterfly, postal stamps depict them, and schools have been created with mosaics of the Gentian Bell. The Alcon Blue is cherished. At the same time, the archives fill up with herbaria of bell gentians and cross leaf gentians, and more and more pinned up butterflies fill up the drawers. If there is so much evidence of the value of this butterfly, why don't we bother bringing it back?
* a nature reservation in the South of the Netherlands