Butterfly Blitz – What’s in Our Watershed?

Blog Post by CVC’s Laura Timms, Natural Heritage Management Ecologist

This summer we hosted our first annual Butterfly Blitz in the Credit River Watershed. Participants helped create a watershed-wide inventory of butterflies by sharing local sightings. The results are in and we can’t wait to share the news.

Between June 22 and August 24 budding citizen scientists submitted over 1,100 observations of 57 different butterfly species to our iNaturalist project.

iNaturalist is an online citizen science social network for naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists to share biodiversity information and observations. Because of the Butterfly Blitz project, there was a 600 per cent increase in the number of butterfly observations submitted in our area compared to 2018. Thank you to all our participants for helping us achieve this amazing feat!

Butterfly Blitz is a citizen science program where participants learned how to observe and identify butterflies and then contribute their data to our watershed-wide inventory.  Participants contributed in three ways: by uploading butterfly photos to the online platform iNaturalist; by conducting timed surveys and submitting them to eButterfly; and by taking part in a one day butterfly count at the end of June.

Participants observed common favourites like the Monarch as well as more rarely seen butterflies such as Mulberry Wing, Baltimore Checkerspot and Acadian Hairstreak. The full list of species is found on our project page.

A few neat finds are highlighted below.

Dion Skipper
The Dion Skipper was last seen in the watershed twenty years ago! A population was frequently observed at Rattray Marsh in the late 1990s, but none have been were reported since 1999 – until this summer. This butterfly is not usually seen in large numbers. It’s known to be a skittish flier that can be difficult to approach. It was a treat to see this species being observed at not one but two sites in the watershed this year.

Eyed Brown
Eyed Brown butterflies only live in wetlands where abundant native grasses grow. The presence of this butterfly helps us understand the health of wetlands.

The Eyed Brown is one of the butterflies in our area that has large distinctive eye spots. These eye spots are thought to confuse and deter predators.

Banded Hairstreak
Hairstreak butterflies are beautiful and fascinating creatures. They spend most of their time high in forest canopies coming down once or twice a day to feed on nectar. For every hairstreak that you see, there are probably many more up above you.

Banded Hairstreaks have ‘tails’ sticking out of the ends of their hind wings. These tails and the surrounding colour patterns look a little like a head. It’s thought that this tricks predators like birds into aiming their strikes on the tails instead of at more vulnerable parts of the butterfly’s body. Banded Hairstreaks are often seen rubbing their wings together which may make the deception seem even more real as the ‘head’ moves.

Red Admiral
Red Admirals are migrant butterflies. Unlike our resident species, they typically cannot survive our winters even as a sheltered egg or pupa. However, Red Admiral butterflies return each spring from more southern regions to take advantage of the abundant habitat and food resources. The species goes through at least two generations while here laying eggs on nettle plants that the caterpillars then munch up.

The number of Red Admirals varies from year to year and this was definitely one year where there was not a shortage of Red Admirals! The Red Admiral was our second-most commonly observed butterfly in the Butterfly Blitz throughout the watershed in both urban gardens and natural areas giving everyone a chance to see one.

As we repeat the Butterfly Blitz over time, the data will help us track trends and provide insights to help protect and restore wildlife habitat in the Credit River Watershed.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Butterfly Blitz or would like to know how to get involved next year, contact Lindsey Jennings: [email protected], 905-670-1615 ext. 445.

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