Skip to main content

The Migration Mystery of Hong Kong’s Danaid Butterflies

With its forests of high-rises reaching for the sky, Hong Kong is often referred to as a concrete jungle. But about 40% of the SAR’s total land is made up of public green spaces containing a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Professor Tim Bonebrake

Among the fauna are up to 260 species of butterflies, one of the highest numbers globally for a major city. And while new species are arriving researchers are still uncovering the secrets of various established Hong Kong butterflies.

One long-term study being carried out by a small team from the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences, in the Faculty of Science, is investigating the migratory and seasonal movements of danaid butterflies.

Professor Tim Bonebrake, who is in charge of the mark-release-recapture study, said butterflies are an indicator for other insects because they're conspicuous and people see and observe them.

Professor Bonebrake said they have records of two butterflies travelling 17 kilometres within Hong Kong but that, at the moment, they have no proof of migration.

The Migration Mystery of Hong Kong’s Danaid Butterflies
The Migration Mystery of Hong Kong’s Danaid Butterflies

“It's really the underlying mystery of whether these danaid butterflies are migrating, where they're migrating, how they're migrating,” he said. “That's what we really want to understand.”

The team is looking at three different kinds of danaids: brown coloured Crow Butterflies; orange and black Orange Tigers; and Blue Tigers which are brown and blue. And they’re asking members of the public to submit photos of the tagged butterflies.

Project researcher and PhD student Emily Jones said they also want people to provide the location of the butterflies by using a Google map to indicate where they were at the time of the sighting.

“The ultimate goal for this project is to get public reports of the butterflies outside of Hong Kong so we can identify the spaces along their migratory routes and their destination,” Ms Jones said.

Professor Bonebrake said that if they can track and understand if and how the danaids are migrating, then hopefully they can understand how to conserve these and other migratory species and protect Hong Kong’s forests and habitats.

Back to KE Videos