Local residents and families came together Saturday, some with net in hand, for the love of insects.
The group of about 30 observed hundreds of butterflies, as part of the 10th annual Tippecanoe County Butterfly Encounter, put on by Purdue’s entomology department and Evonik Corporation. The encounter allowed attendees, from small children to well-versed insect enthusiasts, to play a part in preserving our environment by tallying the number and type of butterflies seen near the trails of the Evonik Wildlife Habitat Area.
One attendee, Mickey Penrod, said she was happy to see several Swallowtails – her favorite butterfly – as well as five Monarchs during the day, and explained how things worked.
“You come in and there’s a quick crash course on how you count butterflies,” Penrod said. “Of course, look at the wide open area; you might count a butterfly over here, but he’ll fly over there, so there’s different groups and they broke up. Some did this area, some down there, some went down in the wooded area.”
Attendees walked up and down the dirt trails with their trained guides looking for a flutter of wings in the tall grass and announcing frequently, “Cabbage White” or “Silver-spotted Skipper” at which point a tally would be immediately marked. At the end of several hours of butterfly tallying in almost 90 degree heat, the participants were happy to get some shade and hear the compiled findings for the day.
Collectively, the group saw 711 individual butterflies from 25 different species on Saturday. This is a huge rise from last year’s butterfly encounter, during which only 214 individual butterflies from 26 species were seen. A professor of entomology, Steve Yaninek, explained why last year’s count was so low.
“Last year, because it was so dry, we found very few butterflies overall,” Yaninek said. “This year things seemed to have bounced back.”
Also noteworthy were the sightings of two individual butterfly types that had never been recorded in this area before: a Dun Skipper and a Horace’s Duskywing Skipper.
Jonathan Neal, a professor of entomology who led the Butterfly Encounter, said the day is important because it connects people with nature and promotes conservation. He also explained how butterfly wing technology may be commercialized in the future.
“If you look at some of the butterflies, like the Swallowtail, you’ll notice their colors are iridescent,” Neal said. “So we can study how the butterfly wings produce that color and replicate that ... So people actually make small pieces of wallpaper that are reflective blue like the Swallowtail morphos, and someday you’ll be able to go into Wal-Mart or something and buy butterfly wallpaper.”