On the edge of a thin strip of roadside vegetation, a man in the far end of his 80s peers up into the canopy of a bulloak tree.
A minute speck flashes high above him. “Here’s a Bulloak Jewel! It’s a male, you got it?” he calls out.
He wears no glasses or binoculars, but the eyes of legendary lepidopterist Dr Don Sands are undiminished. So is his enthusiasm.
His research assistant, ecologist Matthew Head, tracks the speck, eyes darting. He wields a hefty 600mm lens. “Look at the size of that monstrous subtropical butterfly,” he mutters drily.
It is hardly bigger than a thumbnail. “C’mon mate … Ah no, don’t go over there!” Eventually it perches, high and vigilant.
We are at Ellangowan Nature Refuge, a 1.5km stretch of road near the one-pub town of Leyburn, on the Darling Downs of south-east Queensland.
This tiny, unprepossessing patch of scrub is home to one of Australia’s most endangered insects. Even here, it is incredibly vulnerable.
Between the 50 metres that separate the road and private property, gnarled, burnt-orange angophora trees predate the arrival of Europeans by centuries. There hasn’t been a fire here for a long time. But the trees are scarred by old lightning strikes, leaving hollows and stumps that have been colonised by a very special ant on which the butterfly depends.… Read more..