Butterfly Census: Where Are They?

Summer of 2011: Tiger Swallowtails have left the building

It has been interesting to discover that we are not the only butterfly-free zone this summer. But a few dots on the map does not shut the lid on a theory that something large-scale is happening. Fluctuations in populations of some insect species in some localities in some years is certainly within normal variation, I suppose. On the other hand, we’ve seen larger-scale die-offs like Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees and White Nose Syndrome in bats. Both started with isolated reports that grew into something much larger and more long term, and more ominous than a quick dip in numbers.

I’ve looked around some, and find that many places (often university-associated or with groups like Audubon, Sierra Club etc) have butterfly census events. Many of them are coming up in the next two weeks. So do check in your area and consider participating and then letting us know what you find in your area. A pooled super-census might give a clearer picture of the issue of our missing butterflies in the summer of 2011.

Here are a few links pulled quickly; do check near where you live for upcoming opportunities to participate in a butterfly census.

Annual Butterfly Census at Five Rivers Environmental Center (Saturday July 2, 2011) -  What’s red, white and blue and flutters in the wind? Dang, there goes another one! Whatever it is, they’re flying all over the grounds. Come join our annual census of local butterflies as we gently catch, identify and then release specimens unharmed. Nets or binoculars are welcome. Call the center at 518-475-0291 to register by Wednesday, June 29.

Mariton: Butterfly Census

Catch sight of some beautiful butterflies for annual census [Colleges]

Stewardship Chronicles: Butterfly Census at Waterloo Mills We hosted a butterfly count at the Waterloo Mills Preserve in Devon.  Volunteers counted 20 species of butterflies at the Preserve.  While the overall number of butterflies counted was low, there was a greater diversity of species present than expected.  Here are the results of the count:

Butterfly Facts – Facts on Butterflies – Defenders of Wildlife




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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Now that you mention it, I’ve seen only a few this summer. I blame it on the extreme heat, but maybe there’s another cause. I hope not.

  2. I’m not sure Fred if your local observation should lead to any conclusions. I live within 10 miles of your location but at a different elevation. I’m a ridge top dweller.

    Maybe you are lacking in good snacks. I have a Rose of Sharon hedge and took the time to observe what’s going on out there. I saw several different types of bees and mostly the black and blue butterflies. I’ve seen the typical amount of those in your picture. They like the wildflowers and wild berries which I have plenty of.

    I recently had to figure out how to evict some bats from my attic and can send you pictures to confirm they seem to be doing fine also.

    I’m thankful that stinkbugs haven’t been a serious problem. The asian ladybugs have been worse (too early in the season to know) and some years are worse than others.

    My tomato plants survived a pretty serious attack by some large smooth green catepillars that I exterminated manually. That was a first time event for me and thankfully it was only a dozen or so.

    Very few Japanese beetles and I remember when they were very prolific. I give credit to the moles and others that I leave alone and nobody nearby is baiting traps.

  3. Jeff…the green caterpillars are probably tomato horn worms. if you find any with white growths on them, leave them in the garden. Those are parasitic wasp pupa from a species that preys on these voracious tubular tomato-digesting machines. Herein, a poetic kind of justice.

  4. I have a ‘butterfly bush’ in the small garden here and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a cloud of butterflies one day when I went to hang out the washing.
    Red admirals in a veritable armada!

    I have always been a supporter of butterflies, in France I happily sacrificed my broccoli crop to the stripey caterpillars that appeared almost overnight.

    If they are on the decline we need to look to ourselves.
    Frogs, for instance, are vulnerable to pollution and climate change…
    Bees, well, we all know about the vanishing bees…
    All indicators that the planet is not healthy?

  5. …and we must come soon to accept that, if the least of these are being damaged as a consequence of our ONE species, then our future is out of balance. It’s not all about us, after all?

  6. oh no, it is not all about us at all
    Sometimes I think that the human race is like a particularly nasty virus that is destroying the planet, if I were other life forms I would take steps to remove us!

    We do need to pay attention to the warning signs
    I believe that we will not be the last species on the planet, we will go before the cockroaches

    we have the means to destroy but we also have the means to save the planet, we all just need get our heads out of the sand, quit being so blind, greedy and selfish, and play our part

  7. I am a keen butterfly observer and have 4 buddlia bushes in my garden which are usually covered in small tortoiseshells but this year there are none. Is this because of our hard winter or dry spring? Will they return in future summers?

  8. The danger here is that those of us who experience a reduction in butterfly numbers can jump to the conclusion, especially finding a few more similar reports, that this constitutes a wider trend, when it really is just our cherry-picking via search engines to find “evidence” that supports our hypothesis. I think there is a lot of this “apparent truth” to be found these days if we look hard enough and in the right places, hence the term “truthiness”–a convenient reinforcement from enough other like minds that we come to believe in outliers as universal trends.