Giant Data

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kent-giant-800On a cold, rainy day in November, Kent McFarland is happy: he’s found a butterfly. Well, okay, it’s not exactly a living butterfly. It’s a specimen in the insect collection at the University of Vermont. And it’s now a vital record in VCE’s butterfly database as part of the Vermont Atlas of Life.

Kent spied the specimen by chance during a visit to UVM yesterday by the state Scientific Advisory Group on Invertebrates, which he chairs. VCE, which tracks and maps butterfly distribution across Vermont, has recently documented a dramatic rise in one notable species: Giant Swallowtail.

One of the largest butterflies on the continent, and widespread across the southern U.S., Giants flew into Vermont in low numbers in 2010, and have become more common ever since. The species, which overwinters as a chrysalis, now breeds in the state (with Prickly Ash among its host plants). Many of us saw more Giant Swallowtails this fall than migrating Monarchs, which were scarce this year across North America. Kent’s particular Giant Swallowtail came from Ferrisburg, Vermont, on September 11, 2011.

Another day, another data point.

With Kent in the photo is UVM entomologist Heather Axen. And here below is a Giant Swallowtail (living):

Giant-Swallowtail-(ventral)-©-Bryan-Pfeiffer-600x519

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