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You may have heard of bird watching or even whale watching but not many people have heard of butterfly watching. Frankly – I hadn’t either until this year. A friend, coworker, and one of the main entomologists that works in the butterfly house, Marisa, told me about the North American Butterfly Association (naba.org) and how people would do butterfly counts for them on specific days of the year.
I had never been on a butterfly count so I asked her to let me tag along on one this last week. We met up with several other people at Honey Island Swamp at about 9am in the morning. The group was filled with very nice people – the majority of which were, thankfully, more familiar with native species then I am. My experience is mostly with exotics and the native species I do know are either moths or the bigger more “impressive” species. Most of the butterflies we encountered during our hike were smaller more delicate and thus harder to see or identify.
The way the count worked was we walked down a specific path and would call out as we encountered a butterfly (or any other animal really because at heart we were interested in everything). When a butterfly was spotted we would use binoculars to get a good look at the markings visible to try to figure out what it was. If the animal either won’t sit still or we had a hard time ID’ing it then we would capture it and put it in a jar for closer inspection. Once we were comfortable with our decision on the species name we would release the animal and mark down on a list what we saw.
The entire process was rather simplistic but intriguing nonetheless. They walk the same paths year to year so that they can see trends in species throughout the years and hopefully find what conditions are beneficial or detrimental. It also can show us if a specific population is on the rise or fall in general. They are going out again in mid September to the same spot so that they can watch what animals show up at different times of the year as well.
I might go again because my first experience was both fun and extremely educational. I was thrilled at the fact that I caught a pearl crescent (that is the species pictured above) and I learned so very much about the species in the area. We also encountered over twenty Nephila spiders with webs on, next to, or above the path. I love Nephilas so they alone would have been worth the walk.
So if you too would like to learn more about the native butterflies of the area this would be a great way to get hands on education while gathering useful information at the same time.