Posted: 17.08.2023 16:20:00

Unknown species

Steppe butterflies, tarantulas, mantises and vultures appeared in Belarus due to climate change

Over 30 years, the average annual temperature in Belarus has increased by 1.36 degrees and amounted to almost 7.3 degrees, which is almost 25 percent more than the long-term norm. Agro-climatic zones have shifted. Anatoly Kulak, a leading researcher at the Scientific and Practical Centre for Bioresources of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, talked about how this affected the fauna.

From south to north

Heat-loving representatives of the animal world began to actively penetrate our country from the south and gradually settled to the north. In the Brest Region, a golden jackal was noticed, and a population of Przewalski’s horse settled on the territory of the Polesye Radiation and Ecological Reserve. However, most of all, the changes affected mobile species — insects and birds.
And if, due to their small size, insects are not so noticeable, then the vulture, which was found in the Liozno District of the Vitebsk Region, made a lot of noise on social media. According to eyewitnesses, during the day the predator dealt with storks in three nests.
At the same time, the vulture, also known as the griffon vulture, is not particularly afraid of people. While the villagers managed to drive it away from the stork’s nest, very soon the vulture would still return to finish the meal.
The griffon vulture lives in Southern Europe, North Africa and Asia. On the territory of Belarus, these birds were noticed four times. For the first time — a hundred years ago near Vitebsk. The length of an adult vulture often exceeds one meter, and the wingspan can reach three meters. At home, the vulture feeds exclusively on carrion.

New neighbour

The number of species that replenished the Belarusian fauna is initially so low that they manage to remain unnoticed for a long time. With warming, they began to feel more comfortable, multiplied and now do not hesitate to be seen. For example, the South Russian tarantula was discovered near Gomel at the end of the 19th century. Then, for almost 100 years, this spider disappeared, at least from the information field. And now people are not too surprised by the news that someone found a tarantula in their country house.
By the way, shocking information for arachnophobes — more than 600 species of spiders live in Belarus. Recently, this list was replenished with a spider from the genus Heirakantium. It has spread from Portugal to Central Asia, from southern Sweden to Turkey and Greece. And now also in the Gomel Region. The body length reaches 15 millimetres, and the bite is comparable in consequences to the sting of a wasp.
The mantis, which settled up to the north of Belarus, also liked living at our country. This insect was first discovered on our territory about 40 years ago, and again only in 2010. While initially such amazing meetings occurred mainly in the south, just a few years this species has spread throughout the country.
Warming has a positive effect on the number of Eversmannia butterflies, most of whose relatives live in tropical forests. It is so rare that science still does not know what its caterpillar looks like and what it eats. This species is planned to be included in the new edition of the Red Book and studied in detail.

Sensational finds

Increasingly, biologists are finding inhabitants of more southern natural zones — steppes and even semi-deserts. From almost every field expedition to Polesie, Anatoly Kulak brings specimens that we have not seen before, “Usually, new species do not immediately establish themselves stably in our ecosystems. Last year, there were unique finds in the Loyev and Khoiniki Districts. In the first case, the Saragossa siccanorum butterfly was caught in large numbers, which is typical for the steppes and semi-deserts of Kazakhstan. And in the Khoiniki District — a huge predatory fly, the main area of spreading extends hundreds of kilometres from us. The predatory flies are so poisonous that they easily prey on stinging wasps, bees and bumblebees.”
Several expeditions took place this year, scientists found several more species of beetles, butterflies, spiders, which are atypical of Belarus, Anatoly Kulak continues, “I can’t reveal all the names yet, because the finds are at the level of sensations. But one of the found species of beetles lives in the steppes and semi-deserts, digs holes up to two metres deep. The species is very vulnerable. It dies out throughout its range, practically disappeared in Ukraine, remained in some places in the Kherson Region.”

The earth got hot

The air temperature in Belarus is growing three times faster than on the planet as a whole. Moreover, the maximum increase in annual temperature is observed in the southeast. This is due to our physical and geographical position — the Northern Hemisphere is heating up more, as is the land, remote from the oceans. The average temperature rises most rapidly during the cold period of the year and slightly more slowly during the warm period. The expert explained what this means for our fauna, “A stable snow cover serves as protection for insects from severe frosts and insectivorous birds. And its absence leads to the fact that the number of species is reduced.”
The winter 2019/20 was severe, when persistent sub-zero temperatures were not observed. As a result, the number of individual species of insects, in particular night butterflies, has decreased by tens and even hundreds of times. Now their populations are gradually recovering.
The scientist predicts that climate change will continue to affect the development of ecosystems, so when you go on a picnic or to a village, look both ways: you may discover a new species for our country.

Five new species of butterflies were discovered in Belarus last year. Of the 202 species of rare and endangered animals listed in the latest edition of the Red Book, 34 are butterflies. It is possible that in the new edition, which is scheduled for release in 2025, this list will be replenished.

By Inna Gorbatenko

Photos by Anatoliy Kulak