Many people may not realize that the Kamehameha Butterfly is the official state insect of Hawaii. Fewer still know that its population has been in steady decline for a century.
"I would say it's getting to be quite significant, but the fact is we just don't know, and that's what's most concerning" said UH Manoa Professor of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences Dan Rubinoff.
Now he and fellow researchers want to know why.
"Right now we're in the starting stage where we're just trying to figure out what's going on with the butterfly, and we know it's not everywhere it used to be" said Rubinoff.
He and his colleagues want to catalog where the butterfly's habitat has shifted to. For that, they're asking for the public's help.
"We're trying to get all the positive records that we can for this butterfly, then create a map of where it occurs and figure out what's unique about those locations" said UH Manoa Researcher Will Haines.
Haines said that when someone comes across the butterfly, to take a photo of it and send it to kamehamehabutterfly.com. Once the researchers know where they live now, they will be able to compare their findings to the established record to examine likenesses and differences in the locations.
"Too often when something is endangered or rare here, we wait until it's almost gone and then we're scrambling around trying to collect the data and ways to save it, and by then it's often too late" warned Rubinoff.
The end game of the DLNR sponsored research is to restore those habitats, thereby helping to increase the number of butterflies.
Said Rubinoff of his goal, "My ideal is for children to be able to plant mamaki in a school yard, and actually have Kamehameha butterfly come down, find it, and have the people of Hawaii see their state insect".