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Bioinformatics

Student Projects

Butterflies of Victoria


Butterflies of Victoria

    Common Imperial Blue

    Photo by and © M. & P. Coupar

  1. Butterfly Classification
  2. Related Species
  3. Is this Butterfly in your District?
  4. Butterfly Distribution
  5. Butterfly Seasonality
  6. Butterfly Scarcity
  7. Butterfly Food Plants
  8. Butterflies and Ants
  9. Butterfly Images
  10. Your Report

There are 143 butterfly species known in Victoria. Some are quite localised in just a few districts, while others are much more widespread. This class project will introduce students to Bioinformatics while providing them with an understanding of the biodiversity and environmental requirements of a fascinating part of Australia's wildlife.

The project can be easily organised by allocating one species of butterfly to each student to research through the Bioinformatics database, and supplementing this with additional information from library resources. When the students have finished their research, the results could be presented as short individual reports on each butterfly species, and then summarised as a class poster or publication on the butterflies of Victoria.

1. Butterfly Classification

Classification Search

Scroll down until you come to the Genus and Species names. This shows the scientific names of all 143 Victorian butterflies on this database. Choose one butterfly species for each member of the class to research.

Enter the name of each butterfly you have chosen (one at a time, please!) and you will obtain a detailed account of its lineage (from kingdom, through phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, etc).

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2. Related Species

Would you like to know what the close relatives of your butterfly are?

Nature's Family Tree or Hierarchical Searches

Enter the generic name of each butterfly you have chosen (again, one at a time, please!) and you will obtain a list of Victorian butterflies which are close relatives of the one you have chosen. The generic name of your butterfly is the first word of the scientific name eg. Antipodia chaostola (the Chaostola Skipper).

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3. Is this Butterfly in your District?

To find out whether your butterfly occurs in your district, carry out the following search:

  • Check a butterfly list for your city, town or district:

    User Defined Locality Search

    Enter the name of your area and obtain a list of butterfly species. Is your butterfly present?
    If you want to know whether your butterfly has been found in a wider district around where you live, carry out one of the alternative searches listed below:

    • If you live in country Victoria, obtain a list of butterflies for a block of land 30 minutes square (roughly 45 km x 55 km):

      Butterfly Checklist Map Search

      Click on the area in which your school or home is located to obtain your list. Is your butterfly present?
      If you want to search an even larger area, click and highlight a few adjoining areas.

    • OR

    • If you live in the Greater Melbourne area, obtain a list of butterflies for a block of land 10 minutes square (roughly 15 km x 18 km):

      Cumulative Butterfly Checklist for the Greater Melbourne Area

      Click on the area in which your school or home is located to obtain your list. Is your butterfly present?
      If you want to search an even larger area, click and highlight a few adjoining areas.

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4. Butterfly Distribution

Where in Victoria has the Museum recorded sightings of your chosen butterfly? Carry out the following search:

GIS Species Information Search

Enter the scientific name of your butterfly, and obtain a list of the latitude and longitude of all recorded sightings of your butterfly. Plot the most frequent sightings on a map of Victoria. Have there been any sightings near where you live?

By clicking on 'Distribution Map' at the top of the list of sightings, you will obtain access to six maps showing where in Victoria your butterfly has been recorded. The maps are:

  • Plain map
  • Altitude map
  • Rainfall map
  • Vegetation map
  • Zoogeographic map
  • Rivers map

Carefully examine each map and try to write statements about where your butterfly occurs in Victoria. The following questions may assist you to do this:

Plain Map
In which districts of Victoria does your butterfly occur? Use latitude and longitude and a good map of Victoria to answer this.
Does your butterfly occur near the coast, inland, near Melbourne, elsewhere in Victoria?

Altitude Map
Does your butterfly live mainly at low or high altitudes?
Is its favoured altitude the same on the coast as it is in inland areas?

Rainfall Map
Does your butterfly favour wet or dry areas of the state?
What is its preferred annual rainfall?
Is rainfall or altitude the best predictor of where your butterfly might be found?

Vegetation Map
What vegetation type is favoured by your butterfly?
Find out a little more about the sorts of trees and other plants found within this plant community.

Zoogeographical Map
In which type of animal community does your butterfly live?
Find out a little more about this zoogeographical region of Victoria.

Rivers Map
Is your butterfly found near main rivers?

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5. Butterfly Seasonality

Find out the months in which your butterfly is active.

Monthly Adult Butterfly Flight Capture Frequencies Search

Enter the name of your butterfly and obtain a table and graph showing the months in which your butterfly has been recorded. Try to explain the pattern of sightings.

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6. Butterfly Scarcity

When was your chosen butterfly last recorded? Perhaps it was recorded often in the past, but less frequently in recent decades. Be aware, however, that a lack of recent recordings may mean that environmental problems (habitat destruction, predators, weather, disease...) have reduced the population of the butterfly, or it may mean that few field trips seeking your species have been conducted in recent years.

Examine the data for all of Victoria:

Decade Adult Butterflies Frequencies Search

Enter the name of your butterfly. Try to write several statements about the pattern of recorded sightings over the past century. Can you think of any reasons for the changes in frequency of sightings?

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7. Butterfly Food Plants

Each species of butterfly has a few favourite plants on which they lay their eggs to ensure that the caterpillars will have food when they hatch. In many cases, they will have other favourite plants from which they obtain nectar as adult butterflies. It is useful to know what these plants are, because they can be planted to attract butterflies, or steps can be taken to conserve them when clearing or development threatens.

Find out which plants are favoured by your chosen butterfly:

Butterfly to Host or Food Plant Searches

Enter the name of your chosen butterfly and obtain the names of the host or food plants it favours. See if you can obtain some information about these plants.
Do you or your parents or friends know these plants?
Are they widespread in your district?
Do these plants change throughout the year? Is this part of the explanation for the data on the months in which your butterfly is active (and inactive)?
Were they more widespread in the past?
Are there any in your school or home garden?
If the food plants occur in your district, perhaps you can arrange for some to be planted in your garden to attract butterflies.

Be aware that other butterflies may also be attracted to this plant. To check whether this is the case, enter the name of the plant:

Host or Food Plant to Butterfly Searches

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8. Butterflies and Ants

Some species of ants keep the caterpillars of certain butterflies to obtain the secretions the caterpillars provide. It's a little like humans keeping dairy cows! Other caterpillars actually feed on ant larvae. Does your chosen butterfy have a symbiotic relationship with ants?

Find a definition of 'symbiotic' and then carry out the following search:

Butterfly to Ant Symbiotic Relationship Search

If the name of your butterfly is listed, enter it to discover the ant species it has a relationship with. Find out more about this ant species from reference books in your library. (If your butterfly species isn't listed, it doesn't have a symbiotic relationship with ants).

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9. Butterfly Images

To obtain one or several images of your chosen butterfly, carry out the following search:

Image Search

Enter the name of your chosen butterfly, select 'All Available Images' and gain access to all the images of the butterfly that are on the data base. These may be of eggs, larvae (caterpillars), larvae and ants, pupae (chrysalis), live adults, Museum pinned adult specimens, food plants, or habitats. Click on thumbnails to access and enlarge images.

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10. Your Report

Once you have finished the searches outlined above, you are ready to write your report. You may decide to supplement the data you have obtained with information from reference books in your library. This may provide you with additional information on butterflies in general, or on the butterfly you have chosen.

If the butterfly you have chosen is found in your district, you may also decide to carry out several butterfly observation field trips (in the warmer months), or you may be able to obtain information on butterfly sightings from your parents, neighbours or local naturalists. A butterfly identification key is available:

Identification of Possible Species

When you feel you have enough material, you should write a report on your chosen butterfly. The reports on each butterfly can then be combined into a report on the Butterflies of Victoria, and presented as:

  • a school project
  • a talk to your class or to a parents meeting
  • a talk on the local radio station
  • an article for the school magazine or the local paper

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