Butterfly Count

By: Erin Tate
By: Erin Tate

Butterfly populations could indicate greater environmental trends. This year, park rangers were looking to see how recent, record-high rainfalls have impacted the insects.

Tracking down the small critters took some big help from one special, nature-loving kid.

"We've seen some monarchs, some silver spotted skippers and one tiger swallowtail," explains Butterfly O'Rourke.

She may only be ten, but she knows her species. And she's back at Big Meadow for her second year helping Shenandoah National Park Rangers on their annual butterfly count.

"It's really cool when they fly by with a flash because all you see is a flash of color going by," she says.

The New Jersey fifth grader has just spotted a female tiger swallowtail.

"They're one of the largest butterflies we have and it's right on the milkweed, getting nectar out of the milkweed," explains Park Ranger Mara Meisel, peering through binoculars.

Meisel has been leading butterfly counting groups for seven years. She says the diversity of the park - from mountains to meadows and rivers to ridges - provides a rich stash of species.

Last year, more than 3000 butterflies were counted. The volunteers don't ever catch the creatures. They scout them, identify them and keep tabs of what they've seen.

"You might count the same butterfly twice but we try not to," Meisel says.

She calls the event "butterflies through binoculars." O'Rourke doesn't seem to mind that it's hands-off.

She has a great deal of respect for the insects - so much, that she's actually become a butterfly herself.

"When I was about five, I changed my name to Butterfly. A lot of kids in my class call me Butterfly," she says.

O'Rourke will be fluttering back home after her work at the Park is done, but she'll migrate back next year to keep up the count.

The event is sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association. It takes place each year and includes areas from Canada all the way to the Caribbean.

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