Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Butterfly Watchers Count! by Elane Nuehring

Tropical Buckeye, photo by Linda Cooper

Mimosa Yellow, photo by Hank Poor

Florida Purplewing, photo by Ron Nuehring
Dingy Purplewing, photo by Ron Nuehring
Florida White, photo by Hank Poor

One of our Miami Blue Chapter’s centerpiece conservation projects looks like we’re having TOO MUCH FUN! After all, it’s a lot like going butterflying.  But with a purpose.  

We often go to little known places (be honest, how many of you really know where Rock Pit 39 in Miami-Dade County is?) and locations that require special access such as restricted federal and military properties.  We carry GPS units and cameras and carefully record numbers butterflies seen.  We sometimes do some bush-whacking, trying to find host plants that may be out of view off the trail.  (Yes, we wear long pants and protective foot gear and watch where we put our feet.)

So what are we up to?  The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI; is a state-funded project based in Tallahassee that aims to catalog Florida’s imperiled species of plants and animals.  Identifying populations of rare, endangered species is the basis for land management strategies that can ensure protection of the species; you can’t protect it if you don’t know it’s there.

FNAI has a butterfly component, which has listed 75 butterflies and moths as imperiled, based on their vulnerability to extinction due to natural and/or human-caused factors or highly restricted ranges.  Of the 75, over a third are South Florida species.  

Our task now is to locate populations of our 25+ imperiled South Florida species in order to promote their protection.

Some of our imperiled species are hammock and hammock-edge specialists such as the Schaus’ Swallowtail,  Florida White, Dina Yellow, Mimosa Yellow,  Dingy Purplewing, and Florida Purplewing. Some are pine rockland specialists such as the Florida Leafwing, Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak, and Florida Duskywing.  Some are declining wetland species such as Berry’s Skipper.  A full list of South Florida species considered to be in trouble can be found at

In 2010, FNAI received three years of funding to support imperiled butterfly surveys in South Florida and our local NABA chapters, Miami Blue Chapter (MBC), Broward Butterflies, and Itala Chapter of Palm Beach set to work. All our effort in the field involves volunteer NABA chapter members.

In Miami-Dade County FNAI listed over 150 parks, preserves and conservation lands with potential for protective management of imperiled butterflies.  Another approximately 43 such sites are in Monroe County. 
MBC first grouped our counties' identified sites into clusters to facilitate efficient travel. We next recruited several chapter members with good field skills, or the desire to develop them, and tried to link members with clusters of sites that would be convenient for them to visit, possibly multiple times.  While FNAI is seeking only to determine if a species is present or absent in a site, we find that some sites will require repeat visits; for example, we may find abundance of host plants but no butterflies at any life cycle stage, suggesting follow-up at a later time.

We then began to sharpen our field skills.  Most members who have volunteered are reliable identifiers of adult butterflies, but we need help spotting and identifying eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalids.  We held our first workshop to hone these abilities on April 23 2011 and are grateful to Dr. Marc Minno for spending a thoroughly productive day with us.

As a chapter, we expect to focus several of our customary field trips on our FNAI sites and to collaborate more frequently with our local Dade Native Plant Society on field trips.  Our friends in the DNPS have much to offer us in recognizing some of the more cryptic host plants used by some of our imperiled butterflies.

What about sightings in areas other than FNAI’s specified conservation areas?  For example, Dina Yellows show up in people’s yards where Bitterbush and Mexican Alvaradoa are cultivated.  Hence, butterfly gardeners can contribute records of rare butterflies seen on their own properties. In most cases, this means learning to recognize a small number of species, which you may already know well, and emailing simple reports to the chapter at

Some of us regularly patrol specific areas.  Maybe it’s a botanical garden where you volunteer. Maybe it’s a park near your home where you dog walk. Maybe you just go butterflying on a routine basis at a place you particularly enjoy. People who regularly visit a particular location can document rare species seen at their favorite site. Similar to yards, this usually means learning to recognize a few target species and emailing reports to

Some of us just have that “third eye” peeled for butterflies wherever we go. A Silver-banded Hairstreak has been seen and photographed on North Key Largo at the edge of a parking lot of a visitor center – seen by alert observers in an unlikely place. 
FNAI is interested in all these occurrences and MBC is encouraging anyone who can supply a photo (even a “bad” photo) and an address or clear description of the location to send their sighting to Didn’t get a photo?  Go ahead and email us anyway – perhaps your description will be helpful. Not sure what species to be looking for?  Check the list on our web site:

If you would like to learn more about our FNAI survey project, email and we will contact you with additional details about being part of a team, gas mileage reimbursement, etc.

Florida Duskywing by Linda Evans

Florida Duskywing, Navy Wells, male

Florida Duskywing, Navy Wells, female

Florida Duskywing caterpillar, Navy Wells
Florida Duskywing caterpillar, Navy Wells

Florida Duskywing chrysalis, very rarely seen

The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) is tracking butterflies in the state of Florida that have declining populations, including over 25 imperiled species of south Florida.  Our Miami Blue Chapter of NABA is taking part in a three-year survey of parks, preserves and other conservation areas in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, to determine if species listed by FNAI are present in local pinelands, hammocks and wetlands. 

One of our local target butterflies is the rarely seen Florida Duskywing, a pineland specialist, which relies on Locustberry, Byrsonima lucida, and Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra, as its larval host plants.  Noted nectar plants are Spanish Needle, Bidens alba, and Wild Sage,  Lantana involucrate, found in our pine rocklands.  The Florida Duskywing’s range is the extreme southern tip of peninsular Florida and the Florida keys, in select places where pine rocklands have been spared from development. 

There are seven duskywing species  that occur in Florida, three of which are present in deep South Florida (Horace’s, Zarucco, and the Florida).  Horace’s host plants include many species of oak; the Zarucco uses a wide variety of legumes. Not surprisingly, the Florida Duskywing’s limited palate makes it a pine rockland specialist – and both the butterfly and the habitat are severely limited and threatened.

Our pineland surveys have located Florida Duskywings and recently, caterpillars on Locust Berry were found at one of our south Miami-Dade County sites by an FNAI survey team lead by Linda Evans. This information has been transmitted to FNAI for the statewide imperiled species database.

For more information on FNAI’s work to catalog imperiled species in Florida, search for in your browser and check the article, “Butterfly Watchers Count” in this blog site. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

We Count (Butterflies, That Is), by Elane Nuehring

Dina Yellow; photo by Hank Poor

December 1 was the deadline – on that day, all the NABA butterfly counts in North America (Canada, the US, and Mexico) for the year had to be submitted to NABA for publication in an annual report  of results.

NABA counts involve establishing 15-mile diameter circles that do NOT overlap with any other circles and, in teams of four or more observers, walking as many accessible routes within the circle as possible. Some counts with a large number of participants cover many miles and log many hours. In other circles, where just a few observers are available, only limited portions of the area can be surveyed.  Counters are provided with methods to keep their tallies as accurate as possible, to avoid “double-counting” the same individual butterflies, and to make estimates in situations where large aggregates of butterflies are seen.

Count numbers show a steady increase in  interest in butterflies. In 1993, when NABA was new, 211 counts were submitted.  In 2000, the year our Miami Blue Chapter was founded, a total of 421 North American  counts were submitted. To date, the all-time high, in 2006, was 508 counts – a record that we hope this year will top.

Prior to 1993, butterfly counts in North America were conducted by the Xerces Society, an organization focused on conservation of all invertebrates, but with a strong history of attention to lepidoptera.  In 1993, butterfly counts were transferred to the then-new organization, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA).  The oldest Florida counts, begun as Xerces Society counts, were Homestead (1989) and Christmas (1991).

Under NABA, five more counts were instituted in 1994 and included Corkscrew Marsh, Kissimmee Prairie, North Palm Beach County, Sanibel Island, and Wekiva River.  In 1995, four more counts were added…and by 2000, 27 counts were held in Florida.  Topping any other state,  a total of 67 Florida counts were submitted for 2010, including three new circles.  In all, 59 Florida circles were counted at least once during the year. 

NABA chapters are vital engines behind the count program, and Florida has 11 (35%) of the country’s 31 chapters. We also have a cadre of dedicated butterfliers. Remarkably, several of these dedicated individuals around the state have been participating since the very beginning of the Florida counts: Linda & Buck Cooper, Alana Edwards, Mary Keim, Mark Salvato.

Statewide, in 2010, 36664 individual butterflies were recorded, representing 129 species (about 78% of established breeding butterflies for Florida). Of  the species seen, over a fifth are designated as rare and/or imperiled species: Florida White, Dina Yellow, Statira Sulphur, Lyside Sulphur,  Atala, Silver-banded Hairstreak, Martial and Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak, Banded, King’s, and Striped Hairstreak, Silvery Checkerspot, Texan Crescent, Cuban Crescent, Dingy Purplewing, Florida Purplewing, Appalachian Brown, Golden Banded-Skipper, Hoary Edge, Florida Duskywing, Neamathla, Dotted, Baracoa, Little Glasswing, Zabulon, Yehl, Broad-winged, and Berry’s Skippers.

Some of our rarest and/or most imperiled species were NOT observed this year; among those missing in action: Mimosa Yellow, Gray Ministreak, Miami Blue, Nickerbean Blue, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Tropical Buckeye, Malachite, and Florida Leafwing.

Miami Blue Chapter organizes three of the state’s  counts: Pinecrest/Tri-County (aka Loop Road), Shark Valley of Everglades National Park, and Coral Gables.  The Coral Gables circle encompasses Bill Baggs/Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, Virginia Key, Simpson and Alice Wainwright Parks, Pinewood Cemetery (the circle’s center), University of Miami campus, the Kampong, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Matheson Hammock Park, R. Hardy Matheson Preserve, Ludlam Pineland, a USDA Experiment Station, Chapman Field Preserve, and the Deering Estate at Cutler. Although a large number of observers traditionally participate in the Coral Gables Count every June, we have never been able to cover all the sites that this park-rich area contains. 

Get on board and be part of a team if you are in South Florida in June (June and September are our two best butterfly months!!). Joining NABA counts is a great way to learn your butterflies, meet fellow butterfliers, and contribute to useful national data on butterfly populations.