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Earth Notes: Butterfly Counts

 A white buttercly sits on a spiky purple flower
Robb Hannawacker
Large pine white butterfly

Lots of folks watch and list birds these days. But another activity is gaining attention—butterfly counts.

Two are scheduled in national parks on the Colorado Plateau this month— July 8 at Bryce Canyon in Utah, and July 15 on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.

Project leader Robb Hannawacker, with the National Park Service, says the first purpose of the counts is to get people engaged in nature observation and watching butterflies in the wild.

Like birds, butterflies invite close study because they’re colorful, alluring, and fairly easy to identify. There are coppers, commas, and crescents; whites, blues, and sulphurs; duskywings, metalmarks, and hairstreaks; maybe even a rare fritillary.

They’re also found in varying environments—wherever flowers bloom to provide food, and where particular plants grow as hosts to their caterpillars. So the surveys are scheduled to coincide with prime bloom time in the parks.

At Bryce Canyon, counts have been conducted annually for more than two decades. So far, some 130 species are known in southeast Utah and on the North Rim. With that much data, it’s possible to see trends in numbers and kinds of species, and possible effects of climate change.

Participants don’t need any special training. Nets are provided for those who want to try their hand at capturing the insects. Cameras and binoculars are also useful. The records go to the parks and to the North American Butterfly Association.

This Earth Note was written by Rose Houk and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University with funding from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies. I’m Melissa Sevigny.

Rose Houk is a Flagstaff-based writer and editor, specializing in natural history and environmental topics.  Rose was a founding contributor of KNAU's Earth Notes and has written nearly 200 scripts for the series. She is also the author of many publications about national park and monuments, along with audio productions. 

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