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Butterfly Fans Get Set to Count

Story by Jay Pruett, Director of Conservation

Each summer, volunteers and staff for The Nature Conservancy conduct surveys for butterflies and moths at Conservancy preserves. Such surveys were recently completed for the Tallgrass Prairie and Pontotoc Ridge Preserves.


July 06, 2012

With the early spring this year and current hot, dry weather, butterfly numbers were down some from previous years at Tallgrass Prairie and Pontotoc Ridge Preserve. However, the number of species observed showed very good diversity still being present. A total of 39 species were noted on the Pontotoc Ridge count on June 30, with species seen from grassland, woodland and water course habitats. Dainty yellow, pearl crescent, American lady, question mark, black swallowtail, hackberry emperor, common wood-nymph, fiery skipper, and sachem were some of the more common species seen. More rare species included giant swallowtail, Diana’s fritillary, Bell’s roadside-skipper, least skipper, queen, viceroy, goatweed leafwing, Reakirt’s blue, red-banded hairstreak, and Mexican yellow.

Butterfly Counts at Oklahoma Preserves

The results are used to identify which species have been found, as compared to which species would have been expected to be found, and the relative abundance of those species present. This information gives the Conservancy biologists indications of the success or lack thereof, of their efforts to restore, maintain and enhance the various habitats located on the preserves. The surveys are conducted annually (and sometimes more often) and are compared to previous surveys for consistencies and patterns in the species and numbers noted.

Biological surveys are an important tool for Conservancy staff. Other surveys are conducted for various taxonomic groups, including birds, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, fish, other insects, and plants. They are not all conducted each year due to the difficulty and expense involved, but the butterfly, moth and bird surveys can readily be performed by volunteers in a day, so they are done at least annually. The butterfly volunteers gather at the preserve headquarters and are directed by the leader to areas that likely will have butterflies due to the presence of wildflowers, water or larval food plants. There they walk slowly, observing and noting all butterflies seen. Experts in the group help with identifications and photographers may capture images for ID confirmation. At the end of the day, results are tallied and provided to the Conservancy, as well as the North American Butterfly Association. Moth surveys are conducted at night by setting up a black light suspended next to a sheet draped vertically and then observing the moths (and other insects) that are drawn to the black light and land on the sheet.


Join us from 9am – 3pm on Tuesday, June 10 for our next butterfly survey at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve in Tahlequah. This is our last butterfly survey for the year!
Hope to see you there!

Butterfly Counts at Oklahoma Preserves


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org

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