Butterfly Count! Butterflies Count!

There’s an old saying, that ‘Happiness is found in warm sun and butterflies.’ This adage was only half true on July 15th when Matt Thomson and a group of experts and enthusiasts headed off into the back country of Severn to count butterfly species—the first official ‘butterfly count’ to be held in our region. The sun was not to be seen!

Despite the rainy weather the team’s enthusiasm was not dampened – although the conditions likely reduced the number of species and actual butterflies sighted during the day. Together, the group covered 16.5 km by bike and visited six fields on foot. 812 butterflies and skippers were counted, representing 29 distinct species. Imagine how many more varieties and individual butterflies they would have seen if only Mother Nature had cooperated! (Oh, well, there’s always next year!)

Of the 812 butterflies counted on July 15th, 385 of them were identified as European Skippers. Skippers are smaller butterflies and are often confused for moths. They are likely called skippers because of their quick, darting flight behavior. Two experienced butterfly observers on the ‘Count,’ Maria and James, advised fellow trekkers that it was high season for these smaller species, explaining why, despite the overcast conditions, there were so many visible during the day.

While acknowledging the joy of being out in nature and observing one of the most beautiful species of all insect-life, you may well be asking, “Why go to the effort of counting them – especially in the rain!”

In a nutshell – butterflies do count! They are pollinators and, along with bees, they are key to propagating flora and agriculture world-wide. The plight of the Monarch butterflies is well-known and, thanks to a growing awareness of their critical role in our overall ecological systems, there are some signs that their habitats are being restored so that the overall population of Monarchs may start to increase once again. The jury is still out—another reason why ‘counts’ such as the July 15th event are so important in measuring progress for this vital species.

Here in Orillia we have our own champions on behalf of the Monarchs. Morgan Mansfield and her mom, Gavy, have steadfastly drawn attention to the need to ensure a welcoming habitat for these beautiful beings. Orillia was certified as a ‘Bee City’ in 2019, and a group of committed citizens continue to take steps to get Orillia designated as a ‘Bird Friendly City.’ All these initiatives are led by private citizens, like Morgan and Matt, who, with others, are helping to inform our community on how to create a safe haven and protect as much habitat as possible on behalf of these critical members of our eco-system.

The “Count” organizer, Matt Thomson, shared his thoughts on the day. “It’s important to know how declining insect populations are faring in the face of a growing number of threats from habitat loss or degradation, increased use of spray insecticides and the changing climate.

“Severn offers a wide range of ecosystems, and is the perfect municipality in which to conduct a butterfly count. Over the years I have logged more than 60 species of butterflies, though I don’t see the same ones every year.”

Matt is encouraging more of our fellow citizens to get involved. Why not join the next ‘Count’? Combine a fresh-air outing with some valuable learning, support and data collection. You’ll become a citizen scientist in the process.

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