How ripping out a plant species is helping save an endangered Southern California butterfly

The little El Segundo blue was the very first insect to make the endangered species list, back in 1976. Existing only in the coastal dunes between LAX and Palos Verdes, it has made a heartwarming return thanks to the efforts of environmentalists, who have persuaded various cities and jurisdictions to rip out ubiquitous fields of ice plant and restore the native habitat that is vital to the survival of this rare creature.

Among those eco-heroes is Ann Dalkey, a retired marine biologist who worked at the Hyperion Treatment Plant for 22 years. On Saturday, she led a group of locals on a tour of some of the restored butterfly habitat, looking every inch the insect collector in a sun hat and protective clothing, with a pair of binoculars slung around her neck.

Half an hour into our foray, she pointed and raised her voice: “Oooh! Look! There’s a good male dogfight over there!”

A bunch of male butterflies were flitting around, competing for the attention of a female, who had already paired off with a mate.

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