By Peggy Weatherson
In early summer, a welcomed sight along Shore Road is the fluttering by of butterflies. Attracted to the wonderful variety of wild-flowers that decorate our roadsides, butterflies often travel greater distances to summer in our area than many tourists. Yet in this age of information, there remains significant gaps in our knowledge of butterflies in this region. But that is about to change and you can help!
Currently underway is the creation of the first comprehensive and systematic survey of butterflies in the Maritimes. The Maritime Butterfly Atlas is being complied by the Atlantic Conservation Data Centre using information submitted by gardeners, butterfly enthusiasts and naturalists like you! It was started in 2010 and will continue until 2014. Anyone interested in participating in this interesting and rewarding project can document sightings of butterflies by making notes and taking photos, then submitting their findings to www.accdc.com/butterflyatlas. The website gives all the details you need to participate and you can watch the progress of submissions from our shore as well as across the Maritimes. The data collected will be complied and used to establish the conservation status of all butterfly species here in the East. Any butterfly sightings along the shore are important but in particular, Port George is designated as a Butterfly Atlas priority area. So let's get out there and fill in the data gap! You will be assisting future scientists to compare and examine the effects of climate change and other disturbances on our Maritime butterfly populations. If you'd like to participate check out the website or contact the Atlas director, John Klymko (
) who looks forward to hearing from you.
Secondly, you can help by becoming a member of The Butterfly Club. It was formed three years ago by the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute to raise awareness of one butterfly species in particular, the Monarch. The Monarch butterfly has been designated as 'at risk' in our province. The Club encourages the creation of Monarch friendly spaces in our communities by the planting of insecticide-free butterfly gardens which include Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Bush, Coneflower, Cosmos, Heliotrope, Boneset, Yarrow and Aster. When you join the club, a cost of $10.00, you receive a membership card, a Monarch Postcard, Monarch ID card and 2 swamp milkweed plants. The swamp milkweed is vital to the Monarch as it is the only plant they lay their eggs on. It also provides protective food for their caterpillars, making them poisonous to birds. Like magic, the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly takes place in the chrysalis (cocoon) so please leave them undisturbed. Observe and wait with camera in hand for the emergence of Monarch's bright orange wings, distinctly black veined and black bordered with two rows of white spots.
Monarchs are considered the royalty of butterflies, their majestic beauty is undeniable but even more amazing is their annual, two-way, long distance, large scale migration that no other known insect makes. It is still a mystery how they accomplish this. Born here in Nova Scotia and never having made the journey before, without a map and no GPS attached to the windshield, Monarchs flutter their way south to over-winter in Mexico.
They are joined by other Monarchs on the move, amassing in the thousands at traditional meeting places. You can help 'at risk' Monarchs by planting swamp milkweed and you can help biologists by reporting any Monarch sightings at www.monarchwatch.org. To become a member of the Butterfly Club, call 1-866-727-3447 or check out www.merseytobeatic.ca for details.
As a member of the Butterfly Club, I can tell you how rewarding it can be. It gives a whole new meaning to Royal watching. Monarchs can be very elusive but like the paparazzi, I keep my camera ready at all times. I have photographed many other species on my daily walks but no Monarchs as yet. With an increased awareness of butterflies, I am able to spot many more than I did before and I have enjoyed learning about different species. Here's a hint - the Viceroy butterfly mimics the Monarch's colouration but is just a tad smaller. Now with the opportunity to submit my sightings to the Butterfly Atlas, a feeling of stewardship and sense of community is developing. Butterfly watching, perhaps once seen as frivolous, now provides a vital link in the understanding and conservation of not only 'at risk' species, but all Maritime butterflies.