29 June 2015
An amazing walk down a driveway
Members of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association report their butterfly sightings to a website that is open to the public for viewing. A set of companion pages provide information on the characteristics of butterflies of the region.
The above report from this past week caught my eye because of the abundance and the diversity of butterflies observed in just a couple hours in the space of only a half-mile walk down a driveway in southwestern Wisconsin.
Seeing butterflies on a driveway (on the sand/gravel - not on the adjacent vegetation) is not an unexpected experience in itself. The phenomenon is called "puddling" because after a summer rainshower butterflies gather at barren locations in search of minerals (especially sodium) and other trace nutrients that are not obtainable from the nectar sources in flowers. I photographed this cluster a couple summers ago at Crex Meadows -
- and I had difficulty driving down the roads there without running into butterflies.
What amazed me about the list at the top of this post was not the number of butterflies, but the diversity of species present. With the exception of the large fritillaries and the Red Admiral and a couple others, these are not long-distance migratory butterflies. Most of them have a rather limited range for their lifetime, and since their needs are specific with regard to food plants for their larva, the implication is that there must be a wide range of microhabitats present close to this driveway (woods, fields, meadows, wetlands, prairie).
Marcie O'Connor maintains Prairie Haven, a repurposed 500-acre farm that she has been "unfarming" for years. Unfarming does not mean neglecting - it refers to an active and labor-intensive process of letting the land revert back to its natural set of habitats, which requires attention to invasives and selective controlled mowing and seeding. She describes the process at this link; elsewhere on the website she provides inventories of the incredible variety of butterflies, moths (82 species in one night), and other animals (and plants) they have observed at Prairie Haven. The website is well worth a visit for those interested in conservation of natural resources and habitats.