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Tibetan entomologist strives to unveil butterfly mysteries


A delicate Neozephyrus suroia is kept in a display case in the laboratory. It represents one of more than 300 newly discovered species that Dawa and his team have unearthed in southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region.

Dawa, 55, is an associate researcher at the regional institute of plateau biology. He has been immersed in insect taxonomy for over 30 years.

For Dawa and his colleagues, collecting insects is both an intimate communion with nature and an unyielding battle against nature's harsh elements – intense ultraviolet rays, unpredictable climate shifts and intricate geography.

Butterfly specimens. /CFP
Butterfly specimens. /CFP

Butterfly specimens. /CFP

Every year, they embark on field expeditions, spending over 140 days and covering nearly 20,000 kilometers. Their journeys take them through mountains, valleys, grasslands and lakes, with each step a testament to their unwavering dedication.

Their most extended expedition led them to the rainforests of Medog County, where humidity, heat and mosquitoes abound. Enduring hunger, sunburn, allergies and insect bites, they collected tens of thousands of highland insect specimens.

Xu Yongqiang, a member of Dawa's team, recalls how even a moment's distraction could result in his arm being covered in mosquito bites. He often asks Dawa where his unwavering passion comes from.

The answer lies in Dawa's childhood. He had encountered a small cabbage white butterfly among some flowers, which sparked his curiosity and desire to learn more about these beautiful creatures. Despite initial hesitation from his parents, Dawa pursued his passion for studying insects. His mother, Lungzin, now fully supports his work.

A small cabbage white perches on the lavender. /CFP
A small cabbage white perches on the lavender. /CFP

A small cabbage white perches on the lavender. /CFP

In 2017, Dawa's team started cataloging Xizang's butterflies, marking the first time the scientific names of butterflies had been recorded in Mandarin, Tibetan and Latin.

The catalog meticulously documents over 600 butterfly species found in Xizang, including morphological characteristics, host plants and distribution information.

Dawa emphasizes the crucial role butterflies play in assessing and protecting the plateau's delicate ecosystem.

Unique plants in the plateau ecosystem rely solely on specific butterfly species for pollination. If these particular butterflies disappeared, these rare plants would face immediate extinction, leading to the demise of the animals that depend on them for survival, Dawa further explained.

As the primary component of the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, changes in Xizang's biodiversity directly impact global climate and biodiversity.

(Cover via CFP)

Source(s): Xinhua News Agency
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