The endangered El Segundo Blue butterfly is continuing to flourish in its 200-acre dune habitat preserve near Los Angeles International Airport, according to airport officials.

A recently completed 2011 seasonal field study and analysis of the El Segundo Blue butterfly found an estimated population between 120,610 and 125,920, an increase of approximately eight percent since 2010, airport officials said.

This builds on an even more dramatic increase seen in 2010, when the endangered butterfly’s population jumped to between 111,562 and 116,474, an increase of 30 percent over 2009, airport officials noted.

The population counts were conducted by consulting entomologist Dr. Richard Arnold.

“The present count has increased remarkably from the fewer than 500 El Segundo Blue butterflies that existed in 1976 when it was among the first insects to be listed as a federal endangered species,” said Robert Freeman, environmental services manager for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city department that owns and operates LAX.

To encourage the butterfly’s comeback, and after careful study and consultation with environmental experts, LAWA created the Dunes Habitat Restoration Project in 1986 to focus on reintroducing and protecting the coastal buckwheat plant, the butterfly’s sole food source, airport officials said.

The recent increase in the butterfly population also has been helped by rainfall between 2008 and 2011 that was at or above normal levels, increasing the numbers of mature buckwheats by 2.4 times compared to 2007, scientists said.

After expanding the butterfly’s habitat to its present 200 acres, LAWA then established ongoing recovery programs, which officials credit for increasing the butterfly population.

The preserve is now home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, in addition to the El Segundo Blue Butterfly.

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