Fourth of July Butterfly Count

By Sheila Vincent, Group Program Coordinator

A puddling male Tiger Swallowtail, the state butterfly of Delaware.
A puddling male Tiger Swallowtail, the state butterfly of Delaware.

On July 12, a small group of Delaware Nature Society staff and volunteers hit the field with lepidopteran intent:  to count butterflies for the North American Butterfly Association’s annual Fourth of July Butterfly Count.

A male Eastern Tailed Blue rests on a blade of grass.
A male Eastern Tailed Blue rests on a blade of grass.

Our group, armed with cameras and nets, combed Burrows Run Preserve and Ashland Nature Center to find all butterflies present in order to provide an accurate census as part of the Wilmington Count.  Other groups covered different natural areas in this count circle.

A "cropped out" photo of Red-spotted Purple at Ashland.
A "cropped out" photo of Red-spotted Purple at Ashland.

Among the 14 species of butterflies identified, we had some notable surprises.  Pearl Crescents, a diminutive orange and black butterfly, turned out to be the most numerous,  with 40 individuals counted.  Fair numbers of Monarchs (11) and Great Spangled Fritillaries (9) were documented.  Little Wood-Satyrs and Common Wood-Nymphs are uncommon species we found.   The gorgeous Red-spotted Purple was a favorite find. 

A Little Glassywing, found at Burrows Run Preserve, is held in hand for identification.
A Little Glassywing, found at Burrows Run Preserve, is held in hand for identification.

Among the notoriously difficult to identify skipper family, we captured and photographed a Little Glassywing, the first ever documented at Burrows Run Preserve.  Only by photographing the skipper and studying images in a butterfly field guide could a positive ID be made. 

“Citizen Science” like the Fourth of July Butterfly Count is valuable in building up an accurate picture of animal populations across the U.S. This year’s Count, for instance, reinforced the notion that 2009 is an “0ff” year for butterflies in northern Delaware (probably due to the very chilly, rainy spring).  What better way to have fun and contribute something useful at the same time?   

 Photos by Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant

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