Volunteers count butterflies for national study

By Bethany Knipp

A team of volunteers began counting butterflies around Manhattan on Thursday morning for the 40th annual count by the North American Butterfly Association.

“The purpose is to monitor butterfly populations in North America,” said John Row, a plant materials specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Center Plant Materials Center in Manhattan.

Locally, this is the fifth year for the Manhattan count, he said.


The count for the winged creatures began with an introduction to some species of butterflies at the Plant Materials Center southwest of Manhattan. Volunteers could look at specimens mounted and tagged in glass display boxes for identification.

“Butterflies’ body temperature needs to be about 80 degrees before they get going,” Row said.

On Thursday morning, it was only about 72 degrees. The volunteers had to wait a bit to start counting the butterflies, which are generally only active in warm temperatures during the day, Row said.

Row said the counters would go to various spots within a 15-mile radius of Manhattan to get an idea of the how many of each species are making a home in the area, checking the Plant Materials Center, a Konza Prairie trail and the Ashland Bottoms.

Row predicted volunteers would spot 300 to 600 butterflies and about 35 different species. The results of the count, he said, would be sent to him where he would compile the data and identify what volunteers could not, sending it to NABA for scientists to use.

“Oftentimes you don’t have to be an expert to be on the count,” Row said. “Some people are good at spotting butterflies and others are good at identifying them.”


For butterflies that couldn’t be identified, the counters could submit photos of them for experts to name.

Lesley Rigney, the manager of the Miami County Conservation District, said she was curious about the center and decided to come back to Manhattan for the butterfly count. A resident of Louisburg, she is a Kansas State University alumna, she said.

“I have brought two aspiring scientists to help out,” Rigney said, referring to her 9-yearold niece and 10-year-old nephew, Nova and Ethan Ptacek.

“They had their bags packed, and they were standing waiting by the door at 6 o’ clock this morning,” Rigney said. “And not only that, but they left an entire incubator full of guinea eggs that are hatching as we speak.”


Row said there have been some interesting trends in butterfly populations during the past few years.

“Two years ago locally here, I think our count was down,” Row said. “I think it had a lot to do with the drought we were experiencing.”

He said two springs ago, populations of butterflies moved in early.

“We had Red Admirals,” Row said. “They were just all over the forks. When the canola was in bloom we had Cabbage butterflies in large numbers on each plant. It was kind of a… I would say a unique event, because it’s something I don’t see every spring.”

This year, Row said he thought a few things could affect the count, including a recent windstorm, cooler temperatures and the plant life.

“Our plants here on the center aren’t in full bloom right now, so that makes a difference in what we’ll see here. I think our better options are going to be out on the prairie,” he said.

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