A lucky find for science

When Alfred Haselberger was 12 years old, butterflies were the boy’s interest. Not far from his home, on a railroad, there was a wall, a ramp facing south. A playground for butterflies. He says, “My personal court.” At that time he had no clue. He bought a safety net, a book on How to Identify the Species. The desire to discover was already noticeable. It wasn’t long before he became fascinated by wing-flapping insects. Haslberger is now 57 years old and is still subject to a species-rich insect arrangement.

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Valleys and mountains are his lands

While some go on expeditions to exotic countries like Iran, Turkey or South America, the Hasselberger house has always impressed him. Valleys and Mountains: The scholar is passionate about mountains, he has always been, knowing the Berchtesgaden Alps through countless tours.

“What sets Berchtesgadener Land apart: different types of butterflies can be found at every height, and it’s often tedious to search for them,” says Haslberger. In the national park alone, it hunts for butterflies more than 20 days a year.

Haslberger came to the insect working group at Haus der Natur in Salzburg early on and made contact with the Zoological State Collection in Munich, which has the largest number of butterflies in the world: 12 million specimens, 130,000 species in 80,000 boxes. There are vast amounts of records, discoveries, and scientific reviews by entomologists and entomologists. With them he finds connections and experts who know their way around, and can ask questions that others won’t answer.

It was intertwined, the world of butterflies seemed to be infinite, in fact it was. 3,500 species have been described in Bavaria to date, including 150 species of butterflies, the Apollo butterfly, or the swallowtail butterfly. The rest are night, and they can often be difficult to spot depending on where you are looking for them. 57 year old I know. The skull butterfly is one of the largest moths, and it is known even to the inexperienced. But Alfred Hasselberger is more interested in those who haven’t seen it yet. The one he must first catch in order to analyze it scientifically.

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The pharmacist’s main focus is on young butterflies. Although they are considered less attractive, they are often the same, only the nuances that distinguish one species from another. According to their external characteristics, they are difficult to distinguish. Then you need a microscope or you have to belly boil to analyze chitin structures. Often mites are smaller than a tiny nail.

Alfred Haselberger spent dozens of days and nights in the national park. “I look at the area, and I look at the diversity of the plants. If that were large, then there would be a lot of butterflies,” he says. Heat islands like the pebble, south-facing cliffs are a good place to find what they’re looking for. “High mountain specialists” live there and cannot even stay at low altitudes. Sometimes the father of two boys would take several hours to start the search, he says.

Sigeretplatte and Trischübl, the only transit between Königsseetal and Wimbachtal, are these places. He knows the Berchtesgaden Alps, the areas in and around the national park, like the back of his hand, and he’s been there a lot. Often his efforts are actually rewarded. During the day he ascends the mountain, and in the evening he sets up his “lighthouse” with UV light in the great outdoors. “It’s important that the UV component is high,” he says. Then the moths fly in greater numbers. Not all insects can be attracted this way. Some are ashamed of the light. It’s very likely that Alfred Haselberger will sometimes spend several hours waiting. “That’s just part of it,” says one professional amateur. Although the name is correct, it doesn’t do justice to Haslberger’s knowledge of the world of butterflies. He is highly regarded by science, has contributed to numerous specialist articles, and has been involved in compiling the most comprehensive list of all types of butterflies in Bavaria.

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Three records of particularly rare species

Of course, this is not enough for personal happiness. He wants to collect species from Berchtesgaden National Park. If possible: comprehensive. There are still many white spots here, places that have the potential to make new species visible for the first time. Not every butterfly seeker loves mountains, says the expert on Lepidoptera, where butterflies are also called in technical terms. So the competition there is manageable.

In 2019, Alfred Hasselberger had a lucky streak that led to a flurry of success: he managed to find three records of particularly rare species in the national park, such as the Parornix pfaffenzelleri record. In the literature, a representative of the family of a leaf miner was mentioned only once – that was more than 150 years ago. Discoveries like these make Haslberger proud. You are his personal drive to keep going. Because success isn’t always achieved when he’s on the move. Sometimes he goes empty-handed.

The real work awaits in my mid-fifties at home anyway: analyzing species takes a huge chunk of time. The anatomy of young butterflies requires a great deal of knowledge, which the hobby insect world has acquired over the decades. Accompany him study literature regularly. Sometimes he sends samples of butterflies to Canada. There is a lab at the Ontario Biodiversity Institute that uses bar coding, which is a proprietary genetic analysis. A significant portion of the species can be identified this way. It may take months for results to be available. To be recognized scientifically, Alfred Haselberger has to describe his discoveries and place them in a kin context. “A clean image matters,” he says.

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It wasn’t long after Alfred Hasselberger discovered a new genre. He will not reveal where. “That was in Berchtesgadner land,” he says. The butterfly has not yet been described, “so it is new to science”. It will be some time before the butterfly is recognized by experts and given a scientific Latin name. The same is the case with the species list in Berchtesgaden National Park: “It will definitely take a few more years,” says Haselberger, who is in good spirits and some other scientific discoveries will follow.

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