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Citizen scientists track local butterflies | Richmond Times-Dispatch

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Citizen scientists track local butterflies | Richmond Times-Dispatch

It took only a few steps into the Reedy Creek meadow on Sunday morning to find — and document — the first butterfly.

In this case it was a Sachem butterfly, and it was far from the last to be counted as seven people trudged through the James River Park, on the south banks of the river just north of Forest Hill Park, in search of butterflies.

The numbers and species began to add up — at least a dozen Pearl Crescents, a Zabulon Skipper and multiple Cabbage Whites, to name a few — in this citizen science project.

“It’s important to be … counting butterflies, because like so many of our native bugs, we’re losing habitat,” said Linda McBride, who raises butterflies at her Henrico County home. “If we don’t count what we still have left, we’re not going to know how our activities are affecting the natural world around us.”

Sunday marked the second annual North American Butterfly Association count in the greater Richmond area. Counts were also held at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Belle Isle, Maymont Park, Pony Pasture and other sites in the region.

The information gathered during these counts is used in multiple ways, said James Shelton, who led the count at Reedy Creek. He said it raises awareness within the community but is also used by scientists.

Performing counts in the same areas from year to year can help scientists see trends in butterflies, Shelton said. “They can spot conservation issues. We also report on problems that might be affecting butterflies. Invasive species, like ivy, might be taking some of the native habitat.”

Even as Shelton led the expedition and explained its purpose, he kept a watchful eye for butterflies. As the group moved into the woods, he first saw a Pearl Crescent (the most-seen species on this day) and then a Silver Spotted Skipper.

When a butterfly is noticed, other members of the group peer into the vegetation to spot the insect. Some pull out cameras to snap photos, while others consult guidebooks for those not easily identifiable species.

Each one is documented on a checklist by McBride.

The volunteers had different levels of experience with butterflies, but all were drawn together by their love of nature. Jane Cramer is a volunteer at Lewis Ginter and has taken an interest in the Butterflies LIVE! exhibit there.

She saw Sunday’s count advertised and thought it would be interesting to take part.

“I’ve never seen so many small butterflies before,” she said. “In your backyard, you notice the larger ones — the monarch and the swallowtail — which are a little bit more commonly known, but these little ones, sometimes I think people are not aware they are all butterflies.”


Written by vaphc

July 16, 2012 at 9:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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