Sunday, July 28, 2019

2019 National Butterfly Count in Albemarle County Virginia

The lovely Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Yesterday two teams participated in the annual Albemarle County butterfly count. The team I was on went to Crozet Virginia and data will be submitted to the North American Butterfly Association. Taking approximately four hours in temps reaching 90 degrees each team covered different areas to record each species of butterfly spotted. The teams were coordinated by Nancy Weiss and Terri Keffert of the Rivanna Master Naturalists. This was my 5th year to head out to count. It's quite fun to attempt to find that elusive butterfly that you have never seen!

Pair of Clouded Sulphur Butterflies on yellow Cup Plant.
The focus is on butterflies but it's also interesting to see what plants butterflies prefer. There was a butterfly fight over the orange Butterfly Weed. A top favorite for several species during our count. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails loved the thistle plant. Often looked upon as a weed to us but a valuable plant for butterflies and worth keeping a patch off to the side in ones yard.

Our group (all smiles when your with fellow nature lovers).
The final numbers have yet to be tallied but hundreds of butterflies were spotted. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was the most common butterfly along our walk. It sounds like an easy task to identify a particular butterfly but there can be very minute differences between similar looking butterflies. It takes a trained eye often looking through a set of auto zoom binoculars in order to accurately identify. The topside and underside of a butterfly can be very different which also makes things complicated. Sometimes it comes down to just how it flies or what is referred to as the flight pattern. There are around 20,000 butterfly species on our planet but luckily in Albemarle County Virginia there are "only" about 70.

Spicebush Swallowtail on Monarda.
Annual counts can be a barometer of the health of the area. Habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change can impact numbers. Often we hear of the decline of bees but many other insects pollinate such as butterflies and moths. Butterflies, when in the caterpillar stage, are a major part of the food chain for birds.
There are many butterflies at risk.

My attempt at a Monet - Waterlilies spotted along our route.
You can help by not using toxic chemicals and by growing native plants which often provide food for caterpillars and attract adult butterflies. Often we do not understand the relationship between one species and another until we study it. We see a plant that has chewed leaves and think our plant is doomed when often it's just part of the normal course of things. The worm eats the leaves but turns into a beautiful butterfly that turns around and pollinates the plant it chewed.

On butterfly weed, the only Gray Hairstreak we spotted.

This July we celebrated our 10 year anniversary of moving to Albemarle County and I saw more butterflies in our yard than ever. I like to think it's because each year I have planted more native plants.

The good news is that local friends are also seeing more butterflies this year and our count was very fruitful!

-Rebecca 



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