Researchers, Vladimir Lukhtanov and Alexander Dantchenko, have recently discovered a new species of butterfly in Russia. Named the South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus), the butterfly was found flying over the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains in southern Russia. Previously, the population of South-Russian blues was believed to be a common blue butterfly species. However, in the mid-nineties, Lukhtanov began studying every species of Russian butterflies with the goals of learning more about their ecology and biology. Then, in 1997, Dantchenko began sampling butterflies from the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains. Dantchenko identified the butterflies as Azerbaijani blue (Polyommatus aserbeidschanus).
However, when the scientists got together and began looking at different butterflies under the microscope, they found that the butterflies had a very unusual chromosome count, 46, which is the same number as humans. For the next 20 years, until 2017, the researchers have been studying the chromosomes of more than a hundred blue butterfly species. In addition, the researchers have also sequenced the DNA from all closely related species of butterflies. They have finally concluded that these butterflies comprise a new species, the South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus).
The researchers have discovered that the caterpillars of genetically related species feed on different, but very similar plants. This discovery will help scientists discover new butterfly species with the help of botanic information, in addition to helping protect and conserve all butterfly species.
I think that this discovery is amazing. These two researchers have dedicated twenty years of their lives to identifying a new species. It is crazy to think that we may have many more species on the planet than we think we do. If two butterfly experts can think that two different species are actually the same, then many other people are probably making the same mistake with different organisms. This research could help scientists discover new species, in the future.