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Observations on the ecology of the endangered butterfly Zerynthia cassandra in a protected area of Northern Italy

Camerini, Giuseppe, Groppali, Riccardo, Minerbi, Tomaso
Journal of insect conservation 2018 v.22 no.1 pp. 41-49
Arion, Aristolochia, Cepaea nemoralis, butterflies, conservation areas, eggs, endangered species, extinction, females, habitats, host plants, intensive farming, larvae, leaf blade, mortality, overwintering, oviposition, phenology, plant density, poisonous plants, slugs, snails, woodlands, Italy
Zerynthia cassandra is a butterfly endemic to the Italian peninsula. It was recently recognized as a sister species of Zerynthia polyxena. Z. cassandra is oligophagous as it feeds on a very restricted number of toxic plants belonging to the genus Aristolochia: Aristolochia pallida and A. rotunda. The paper reports the results of a research on the ecology of this species which was studied in the natural reserve "Stagni di Lungavilla" (Northern Italy) where the butterfly was living in a small patch of grassy vegetation bordered by a ditch at the margins of a pond. Z. cassandra develops one generation a year. Oviposition occurred in April. Eggs were mainly laid on the lower side of A. rotunda blades. The height of eggs from the ground depended on climatic trends, which affected the host plant phenology. Eggs mortality was mainly due to consumption of leaves by snails (Cepaea nemoralis) and slugs (Arion sp.). Larvae completed their development from April to May, while chrysalises were the aestivating and overwintering stage. Females did not lay eggs on host plants when they were part of the undergrowth. A decline of the butterfly due to habitat changes was recorded during the research (2001–2005). According to information coming from local butterfly watchers the butterfly used to be quite common in the natural reserve until 70’s. Its decline was caused by agricultural intensification and the natural evolution of vegetation towards woodlands, which gradually reduced the host plant density, so making the habitat unsuitable and causing the local extinction of the butterfly.