Rare butterfly the Small Blue spotted in Northern Ireland after 16-year gap
A rare butterfly thought to have been extinct in Northern Ireland has been spotted in Co Fermanagh.
The Small Blue Butterfly - Cupido minimus - was discovered by a surveyor from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
The last recorded sighting in the region was 2001.
Although the species can still be found in other parts of the UK and Ireland, it is undergoing a significant decline.
The NIEA's Habitat Survey Team have partially attributed the discovery of the species in Fermanagh to the unusually warm weather.
Seven Small Blues were found just west of Derrygonnelly by surveyor Bobbie Hamill.
"Not only is the Small Blue our smallest butterfly, but unlike other members of its family it is inconspicuous and can easily be overlooked," she said.
"Rather than blue, the upper wing is actually dull brown in colour, fringed by white hairs with a dusting of blue scales at their base and the underside is silver blue with dark speckles.
"In addition, at little more than 20mm, it is not surprising that these beautiful little butterflies are difficult to spot.
"We would especially like to commend the landowners and managers in the area for continuing to graze these special sites in a sustainable manner, creating the ideal conditions for plants to flourish and the Small Blue and other important invertebrates to breed.
"It is still possible that other colonies of this tiny butterfly are surviving in suitable quiet corners of Fermanagh and beyond, so be on the lookout."
Catherine Bertrand, head of conservation for Butterfly Conservation in Northern Ireland, said: "I cannot articulate how delighted we are that the Small Blue has been reconfirmed. Our volunteers have revisited the site sporadically over the past 16 years since the butterfly was last seen, with no success. We genuinely believed it was extinct from Northern Ireland."
The ecological requirements of the Small Blue are very specific as its existence relies on the presence of its sole food plant, the herb Kidney Vetch.