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Most people learned the wonders of the life cycle in grade school, when they followed the evolution of a butterfly from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis (pupa) to adult. But the learning doesn’t have to stop there.
Thanks to annual counts sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association, it’s easy to experience the beauty of the butterfly firsthand. Aug. 1 was the beginning of the NABA’s fall seasonal count, which includes one in Williamsburg. In July, there were counts in Richmond, the Dismal Swamp and on the Eastern Shore.
These counts, which began in 1993 and were developed to generate an interest in butterflies and monitor their numbers, play an important role in determining the health of an environment and ecosystem, as well as the impact of habitat loss and climate change. Areas with an abundance of butterflies and moths also have a lot of other invertebrates, all of which provide a range of benefits, among them pollination and natural pest control. Moths and butterflies also play a key role in the food chain, being prey for, among others, birds and bats.
Adrienne Frank, who will lead the Williamsburg count Aug. 12, isn’t sure what to expect this year.
“Their populations go up and down, some of it is natural. … It’s hard to tell from year to year,” said Frank, who added that the Williamsburg count last year was good. “Every group last year had between 20 and 30 species and we counted more than 1,000 butterflies.”
This is the fourth year for the Williamsburg count.
“The trend I see is the Williamsburg area (human population) keeps growing, and they put Roundup on everything and that hurts the (butterfly) habitat,” she said. “I’m afraid (we) are going to be recording the decline of species and habitats.”
According to NABA regulations, a count consists of how many butterflies a count party observes in a 15-mile radius. Each count party generally consists of four observers, one leader and one photographer. The counts must last at least six hours and no more than 24.
“Butterflies like it above 65 degrees and sunny, so they usually won’t start flying until after 10 in the morning,” Frank said. “They will keep flying right until dinner time.”
For more information on the counts, which are open to the public, go to the NABA website (NABA.org) for ones in your area. They are listed under “Butterfly Monitoring” on the left side of the home page. A contact person is listed for each count. The cost to take part in a count is $3.