Butterfly numbers drop; cool, rainy year the likely cause
(July 29, 2009) The final results for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s 6th annual North American Butterfly Association Count have been released, and are available on the Audubon website at www.asri.org. Officially representing the state, sites in the East Bay were surveyed on June 27, and sites in the West Bay were surveyed on July 11. Over the two survey dates, 72 participants recorded a total of 2484 butterflies, down 30% from the 2008 tally. 48 butterfly species were observed, slightly less than 2008’s total of 51.
“Audubon Society of Rhode Island is pleased to provide educational, volunteer, and collaborative resources to provide information for the national database,” said Lawrence Taft, Executive Director of Audubon Society of Rhode Island. “Long-term trends in animal populations show the impacts of habitat management, climate change, and other environmental factors.”
“The results likely show the effects of this year’s cool, rainy summer,” says Eugenia Marks of Audubon. “Both count days were warm and sunny, permitting the right conditions for butterfly flight, but the numbers were down significantly from last year.”
Unlike total number of butterflies, the number of species recorded was only slightly reduced, and many notable finds were recorded on the count. Audubon’s Director of Conservation, Scott Ruhren, found a hotspot for Bog Coppers, a butterfly on the Rhode Island Natural Heritage List. “This butterfly is only found in cranberry bogs,” said Ruhren. “But it can be abundant at those sites where it is found. I counted 35 at a remote, practically inaccessible cranberry bog on one of Audubon’s refuges. It was a reminder of how important it is to preserve these rare and fragile habitats.”
Another interesting find was the Compton Tortoiseshell, a species marked “exact status unknown” on the Checklist of Rhode Island Butterflies. The observer, Francis Underwood of Cranston, took a photo which Harry Pavulaan, an expert on Rhode Island Butterflies and co-author of the Checklist, was able to identify. According to Pavulaan, “The count deserves credit as a vehicle for encouraging people to get out in the field and discover new sites for rare or potentially-threatened species.”
The most butterflies were counted by Audubon’s Policy Director Eugenia Marks and participants Debra and Kurt Stiffel of Warren, and Hugh Willoughby of Riverside. The group recorded 843 butterflies at Audubon’s Environmental Education center and a privately owned field in Bristol. “This particular field always has large numbers of Baltimore Checkerspots, a striking black butterfly with orange and white spots,” said Marks. “This year it was more abundant than ever, probably reflecting peak emergence. We counted 700.”
The greatest number of species, 23, were observed at the Cumberland Monastery grounds by team members Elise Barry of Paxton, MA, Walter Bosse of Cumberland, Wendy Miller of Boylston, MA, Pat Molloy of East Providence, and Dolores Price of North Grafton, MA. “The old Cumberland Monastery property, maintained by the Town of Cumberland, is one of the best spots to find butterflies in Rhode Island,” says Marks. “And Walter and his teammates are excellent butterfliers.”
The Rhode Island Butterfly Count is part of a larger effort, coordinated by the North American Butterfly Association, to survey butterflies in North America. The Rhode Island count is open to anyone with an interest in butterflies, and Audubon Society provides butterfly identification workshops for beginners in the early summer. Butterflies are not collected but photographs are made to assist in identification. Accuracy is assured with training and review.
More information, the results of previous year’s counts, and links to resources such as Ocean State Butterflies online discussion group, can be found on the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s website, at www.asri.org. Scroll to the bottom left and click on Butterflying with Audubon.
The Audubon Society of Rhode Island, independent and unaffiliated with the National Audubon Society, was founded in 1897. Today, with 17,000 members and supporters, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island is dedicated to education, land conservation and advocacy. Audubon independently protects or owns almost 9,500 acres of woodlands and coastal property embracing diverse natural habitats. More than 33,000 students from area schools participate annually in our educational programs. A voice in statewide ecological issues, the Society actively fulfills its environmental stewardship through preservation and protection of Rhode Island's natural heritage.