The El Segundo blue butterfly was near extinction when the town of Surfridge’s 800 homes were removed in the early 1970s, to make way for the expansion of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
In the decades since, the federally protected endangered species has made a comeback due to the establishment of a 200-acre butterfly preserve managed by the city. Nonnative plants were removed and native buckwheat — where the butterflies feed and lay their eggs — was reintroduced.
Known populations have since expanded from the largest population at the airport dunes. The reappearance of the butterfly in the neighborhoods of Redondo Beach and nearby Torrance has been a surprise.
First, previous scientific studies indicated the butterfly was relatively sedentary and typically did not fly distances farther than 200 feet (60 meters). The new sightings, however, challenge that notion. To arrive at its newfound locations, the El Segundo blue most likely flew across backyards from its nearest known habitat, thereby demonstrating that its dispersal capabilities are greater than once thought. Furthermore, this location may indicate that the species can naturally recolonize sites containing the native coastal dune vegetation upon which it depends.
“It’s a remarkable recovery,” said Richard Arnold, an entomologist who has worked as a consultant at the preserve.