On Friday June 5, nature enthusiasts will gather at 8:30 am at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve just outside of Forest Ranch to conduct the 9th Annual Butterfly Count for the Big Chico Creek Region, Dr. Don Miller tells us in an interview about the upcoming event. Dr. Miller is a Professor of Entomology in the Department of Biological Sciences at CSU, Chico, as well as being a butterfly expert and enthusiast.
For the past 40 years, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has hosted the annual “4th of July Butterfly Counts” across the country. While many areas reach their peak butterfly populations around July 4, in our area the peak is a little earlier before extended extreme heat, so our region’s count is always the first Friday in June, explained Don. And EVERYONE IS INVITED TO JOIN IN AND HELP.
According to the NABA website: “Three of the main goals of NABA’s Butterfly Count Program are to (1) gather data that will monitor butterfly populations, (2) give butterfliers a chance to socialize and have fun, and (3) raise public awareness by hosting events that will increase general interest in butterflies. We have found that a minimum of four observers and six party-hours best meets these three goals.
In order to strengthen the goals of the program, compilers of new butterfly counts are requested to pre-register their count circles with the NABA office prior to holding a count for the first time. Please note that it is suggested but not mandatory to pre-register new count circles in order to hold a NABA Butterfly Count.
By providing the NABA office with notification prior to holding a new count you can ensure that your new count circle does not overlap any current or historical count circle, and that you have provided all the descriptive information needed to publish your count in the annual Butterfly Count Report.
New compilers are encouraged to carefully consider their count circle coordinates, because count data become more valuable the longer a count is run. While it may not be possible to cover an entire count circle in the early years of a new count, the chosen count circle should reflect the hope that more participants will join the count as it becomes established, thereby helping to cover more of the count circle area. Changing a count circle’s coordinates after the count’s inception to include more desirable counting areas lessens the value of the data collected and therefore does not serve the first goal of the Count Program.
Once your count is pre-registered, we will be able to post your count location and date to the NABA website and possibly publicize your count through targeted emails. All new counts must have a minimum of four observers and six party-hours. You should begin a count only when you have the reasonable expectation that you will be able to field a minimum of four observers each year. With advance knowledge of new counts, NABA may be able notify possible participants whose numbers can increase the overall success of new counts.”
“It’s very much a citizen science supported project,” Don says of the count days.
Recently I had the fun of being a member of a workshop on Butterflies led by Dr. Miller for the Friends of the Chico State Herbarium. The first day was a day spent learning about butterflies in the classroom and the second day was spent in the field observing them in the wild. Don Miller can spot even a small butterfly from a remarkable distance away, focus on them with his binoculars and ID them with impressive speed. He could see them in places that were completely unlikely and unnoticed by me and many others in our group. On our field trip we say 13 different species, including California Sisters, big Yellow Swallowtails, small finely marked hairstreaks and skippers (some of my favorites).
Here is some general information on Butterflies and Moths compiled for Pollinators: Keeping Company with Flowers, a natural history exhibit co-produced by John Whittlesey and myself, and currently on tour with Exhibit Envoy.
Butterflies and Moths
Butterflies and moths, flying insects of the Order Lepidoptera, have segmented bodies of three parts: a head, a thorax and an abdomen, and are characterized by having two sets of colorful wings – two wings on each side of their body. These wings are covered with thousands of minute modified hairs, called scales, creating their wing color patterns.
Most butterflies and moths subsist on a liquid diet, using their long straw-like tongue, called a proboscis, to gather nectar from flowers, dew from foliage, as well as minerals and other nutrients from mud puddles (a behavior known as puddling). Some can even pierce and drink the fluid from an aphid. They coil their proboscis up beneath their chins when not in use.
Butterflies and moths are unique in having taste receptors on the pads of their feet. They use these to locate nectar as well as to locate the correct plant on which to lay their eggs so that when their larva hatch they will have appropriate foliage (larval food) to eat. Larval food preferences vary by moth and butterfly species. Although they are light weight and their long proboscis often keep them above much of a flower’s pollen, moths and butterflies are pollinators of many kinds of flowers. Pollination by butterflies is called psychophily. Moth pollination is called phalaenophily.
Butterflies and moths are annual species, with each generation (called a flight) surviving between 4 months and a year, depending on when eggs were laid and when they hatch. They are excellent flyers, some species, including Monarch butterflies and hummingbird hawk moths, are able to fly at great heights and long distances.
Butterflies: Studies indicate that there are 17,500 species of butterflies in the world; 750 species in the US. More than 150 species are recorded in Northern California. Butterflies are distinguished from moths by their slender antennae often topped by clubs or hooks, relatively smooth slender bodies, generally more flamboyant coloring, being active by day (diurnal) and by the way they hold their wings folded up together above their bodies when they are at rest. There are six families of butterflies including: Papilionidae (swallowtails), Nymphalidae (brush-footed butterflies – like Monarchs), Pieridae (whites and sulphurs), Lycaenadae (gossamer-winged butterflies like hairstreaks, blues and coppers), Riodinidae (metalmark butterflies), and Hesperiidae (skippers).
Butterflies see a limited number of colors as well as ultraviolet colors. The flowers they tend to nectar at and pollinate are brightly colored, fragrant and open in the daytime.
Moths: Studies indicate that there are close to 160,000 species of moths in the world; 11,000 species in the US. Moths are characterized by their often feathery antennae, thick, furry bodies, often dull-camouflaged coloring, being more frequently nocturnal (active at night), although there are crepuscular moths, which are active at dawn and dusk. Moths generally fold their wings flat against their bodies when at rest, and they spin a protective cocoon around their chyrsalides.
Because moths are generally active at night, the flowers they nectar at and pollinate tend to be white or cream colored, often night blooming and night scented.
The NABA sanctioned Big Chico Creek Region annual Butterfly count is registered on NABA as:
Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, CA
Dept. of Biol. Sciences
California State University Chico
400 W. First St.
Chico, CA 95929
2015 Count Date – June 5
For more information on joining the count please contact Don Miller: email@example.com
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In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.