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Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 13:20 UK

Celebration over insect's revival

Large Blue butterfly
The biggest concentration of Large Blues is at Green Down

A wildlife trust in Somerset is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the reintroduction of a rare butterfly to the UK.

Since its reappearance in 1984, the Large Blue species has established its largest concentration at Green Down.

A Somerset Wildlife Trust spokesman said a paper on the butterflies re-emergence was also to be published.

Sir David Attenborough would be among the speakers at a celebratory event to launch the work, he said.

Sir David said: "The restoration of the Large Blue butterfly to Britain is a remarkable success story, illustrating the power of ecological research to reverse damaging environmental changes."

Professor Lord May of Oxford, a recent president of The Royal Society, added: "The recovery of the Large Blue is the world's largest-scale, longest-running successful conservation project involving an insect."

Red ants

In 1979, Professor Jeremy Thomas, a New College fellow at Oxford University, began to investigate the reasons for the insects' decline.

He said large blues were one of the world's most threatened species and were parasites that lived off the labour of red ants.

Ant colonies were found close to the plants where the butterflies laid their eggs and changes in arable farming techniques meant the decline of red ants and the loss of both species' habitats.

In a joint study, published in the Science Journal, with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Professor Thomas described how the "wily" caterpillars tricked ants into becoming their hosts by mistaking them for ant larvae.

The caterpillars would mimic the ants' scent and sound, who would carry them back to their nest, feed them up and ensure their survival, sometimes in favour of their own offspring.

Professor Thomas' findings helped scientists and conservationists successfully reintroduce the species in the south west of England.

Professor Thomas said the study was "the final piece of the jigsaw" towards understanding how Large Blues outcompete their host's larvae.

The paper on the insect's reintroduction is due to be read at Montecute House near Yeovil later.

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