Vermont Butterfly Big Year in High Gear

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Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. / © K.P. McFarland

Summer is in high gear and so is the Vermont Butterfly Big Year. More than 70 butterfly enthusiasts have added over 1,600 butterfly observations from across the state comprising 66 species, more than half of the butterfly species known to occur in the state, so far this year.

With the help of an army of citizen scientists, the Vermont Butterfly Big Year, a project of the Vermont Atlas of Life, is attempting to record every species of butterfly in Vermont this year. It’s a blend of science, education, competition, enjoyment, and a quest to monitor the changing nature of the state. Climate change, invasive species, habitat loss, and other environmental concerns are altering the biological diversity of Vermont. And with volunteer observers, VCE is trying to understand what this means for butterflies.

Terri Armata leads all observers with 57 species recorded so far, mostly in southwestern Vermont, one of the butterfly hotspots in the state. David Hoag, the 2013 Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award recipient, has recorded 49 species in the northwestern region, and Susan Elliott, the 2014 Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award recipient, has recorded 47 species in west-central Vermont. But there’s plenty of time to survey and discover more species across the state this year and everyone’s observations help us learn more about Vermont’s butterflies.

VCE biologist Kent McFarland led a six-year atlas of butterfly diversity across Vermont, involving hundreds of volunteers and producing a landmark report for the state in 2007. The Vermont Butterfly Survey, a project of the Vermont Atlas of Life, established a baseline accounting of butterfly distribution and abundance throughout the state.

“It has been almost a decade since the atlas,” said McFarland. “Atlases are typically repeated every 25 years, so we won’t have another effort like that until around 2027. But with eButterfly making the task much easier, we thought it was time to get a quick, one-year snapshot across the state.”

The Vermont Butterfly Big Year aims to get volunteers of all kinds to search fields and fens, mountains and meadows, even their own backyards, to help document every species of butterfly in Vermont and in as many locations as possible. Digital cameras and eButterfly make this mission easier for volunteers and our biologists. A real-time, online checklist program, eButterfly provides a new way for everyone to report, organize, and access information about butterflies in Vermont and beyond. Launched in 2013, eButterfly provides rich data sources for basic information on butterfly abundance, distribution,and phenology.

Check the Vermont Butterfly Big Year List to see what has been reported.

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