Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Monday, June 21, 2010

Indiana Trek

Kirk guides us through Swamp Metalmark habitat at Clover Lick Creek

Earlier this spring the Nature Museum's Butterfly Restoration Project and Susan Borkin of the Milwaukee Public Museum were awarded a small grant from the Butterfly Conservation Initiative. This grant would allow us to visit a population of Swamp Metalmark Butterflies in extreme southern Indiana. The population was reported to be very large. The purpose of our trip was to verify the existence and size of the population, to evaluate the habitat at this site, and to clip small fragments from the wings of a sample of metalmarks for DNA analysis. We would also collect a female to bring back to Chicago for some further experiments on breeding the species in the lab.

Looking for Metalmarks

We were guided in our efforts by Kirk and Jason from the US Forest Service. I don't know what we would have done without them. They guided us right to the appropriate spots, and offered valuable insights into ecological changes (mostly brush advancement).

Male Swamp Metalmark

We were to visits two sites about a half hour apart. At Boone Creek, we found metalmarks almost immediately. They were present in small numbers- we only found about a dozen individuals. We hoped we would do better at Clover Lick, which was reported to have a larger population. In that, we were a bit disappointed. All told, we only found 4 individauls at Clover Lick, and these were scattered over a wide area.

This shows a tiny part of a huge number of butterflies we saw
puddling in a dry stream bed

We were lucky to have gorgeous weather during our visit. The number of butterflies that we saw was amazing- every butterfly milkweed that we came upon was covered with a half dozen swallowtails or Great Spangled Fritillaires. I got lots of nice photos.

Great Spangled Fritillary

The habitat assessment was revealing. Both the butterflies and their host plants appeared to prever edges between open fields and woodland. In these areas, the host plants were in shade for part of the day. We collected data on host plant density, canopy height, as well as population size for the swamp metalmark. I was able to get DNA samples, though not so many as I had hoped for.

Harvesting DNA Fragments

All told, it was a very successful venture. We got lots of environmental data, and now have a single female set up for egg laying in our lab. The population is almost certainly a lot smaller than we expected. That's a disappointment, but it's still very important to know.

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At 12:29, Blogger Ted C. MacRae said...

I was lucky enough to see one of Missouri's four populations. It sure is a pretty little thing.

At 23:49, Blogger Ur-spo said...

Who took the photo of you on your knees?
You look quite studious.

At 01:47, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Doug, how sad the population was not as large as you hoped. Could the weather have affected the amount of butterlfies you saw? Would you get a differnt count if you went on a different day? I hope you are able to get some useful data from the DNA you were able to collect. Do you think you will be able to breed some in captivity? Will you be going back again at a later date to monitor the sites again?

At 07:46, Blogger Floridacracker said...

Neat! Sounds like your kinda place.
So, what part do you harvest for DNA?


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