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ARCS Alumnus Preserves Native Hawaiian Species

Posted on Friday, July 21, 2017

As manager of the Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources‘ insect breeding program, entomologist and 2005-06 ARCS Scholar Will Haines is working to preserve the Orangeblack Hawaiian Damselfly and other insect species on the Endangered Species list.

“Many of Hawai‘i’s 6,000-plus unique arthropods are rare or endangered, so there is no shortage of endemic species for captive breeding,” Haines said. Included on that list is Hawaii’s state insect, the Kamehameha Butterfly, one of only two native Hawaiian butterflies.

At the breeding facility, scientists watch for signs of romance, Haines said. The butterflies get frisky and chase each other about, then settle down into a trance. Males are released and females placed on native Hawaiian mamaki plants, where they lay as many as 200 eggs the size of the head of a pin. Hatching caterpillars are eating machines, chomping their way through leaves watermelon-slice style, before “Velcro-ing their butts” to a stem and wriggling out of their skin in the final molt to chrysalis stage. Emerging adults are placed in a butterfly house, where they feed on Gatorade and mashed fruit in preparation for release into the wild. The whole process takes about 45 days.

"What we are trying to do is bring back native insects that perform a lot of the ecological functions in Hawaii, things like pollination," said Haines, the 2005-06 recipient of ARCS Honolulu Chapter’s Maybelle F. Roth ARCS Award in Conservation Biology.

“I have always been fascinated by insects, and simply never grew out of it,” Haines said. After completing his doctoral work on Hawaiian lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources in 2011, he headed the university’s Pulelehua Project, a citizen science campaign to map populations, and identified key threats (primarily invasive ants). Pulelehua is the Hawaiian word for butterfly and the Kamehameha butterfly in particular.