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Rogue River Butterfly Count

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By Ranger Steve Mueller

A wetter, cloudier, and colder spring impacted butterflies causing suppressed numbers with later than expected adult emergence. A heat wave settled over the region the week prior to the July 3, 2019 butterfly count. We began searching for butterflies at the Howard Christensen Nature Center at 9 a.m. and concluded at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary at 5 p.m. with a half hour lunch break.

Many locations in north Kent County and southern Newaygo County provided varied habitats. Twenty-one species were sighted and was almost as low as our lowest species number during the 33 years we have conducted the butterfly count. During 1993 we experienced 18 species sighted. Butterfly numbers were low that year despite ideal weather. It was also a wet year and plant blooming dates were late like they were this year. 

The high species count was 43 in 1991. We annually anticipate species to number in the 30’s. The heat was sweltering this year with high humidity and an 85ºF temperature high. Heavy rain occurred the day prior with almost one inch soaking the area. The morning vegetation was wet and slowed butterfly activity until midday when the sun dried vegetation and butterflies. 

In addition to spotting adults on the wing, we search vegetation looking for larvae. Viceroys, Baltimore Checkerspots, and Monarch caterpillars were found on aspen, penstamen, and milkweeds plants. A Viceroy was observed laying an egg. 

Both Canadian Tiger Swallowtails and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails were observed. Our count area straddles an intense transition zone from Muskegon to Midland where plant and animal species distribution changes. For the swallowtails the Canadian is usually found north of the line and Eastern Tigers south of the line. Hybrids are sometimes found. The pattern differences are subtle and require careful observation to separate species. The Canadian Tigers were seen in Newaygo County and the Eastern Tigers at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. 

It was disappointing hairstreaks were not flying. Baltimore Checkerspots, Red Admirals, and Little Wood Satyrs were moderately abundant. European Skippers were the most abundant and Silver-spotted Skippers made a good showing. 

Table 1 lists individuals for each species. Consider participating in the Rogue River, Allegan, and Muskegon State Game Area Counts, and the Manistee National Forest Count next year. It is an excellent way to learn butterfly identification and to associate species with their nature niche habitats. 

After careful compilation and review, this year’s count reports should be posted on the West Michigan Butterfly Association web site in August. (graud.org/wmba.html)

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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