Vermont Butterfly Atlas Newsletter

This is the first issue of CHRYSALIS, an irregular email newsletter about the Second Vermont Butterfly Atlas. You're getting this because you have signed on as an atlas volunteer. We'll be using CHRYSALIS to report on the progress of the atlas and to offer advice to participants.

Thanks for joining the atlas!
Kent McFarland and Nathaniel Sharp
Spring 2023 Edition
  • Welcome to the 2nd Atlas!
  • The First Atlas Butterflies Recorded
  • May Targets to Find
  • Azures, Tigers and Crescents...Oh My!
  • Add Your Zero Checklists Too
  • Should You Use the Site Visit Form?
  • Join an eButterfly Webinar on Thursday, May 18 at 3PM
Welcome to the Second Vermont Butterfly Atlas

They float and flutter over alpine meadows, fields, and flower gardens. They merit angelical roles in poetry, art, and our imaginations. With names like Great Spangled Fritillary, Northern Azure, and Bog Copper, they are among the most captivating insects. And now, the Second Vermont Butterfly Atlas is intersecting our love of watching butterflies with science and conservation.

Butterflies were largely a mystery in Vermont before hundreds of volunteer community scientists joined us for the first Vermont Butterfly Atlas (2002-2007), heralding a new era for their conservation. Twenty years later, we are poised to detect changes in their distribution and abundance and provide essential information for environmental management and policy. The Second Vermont Butterfly Atlas is a rare opportunity for us to understand long-term trends in butterfly populations and prescribe conservation actions to both keep common species common and reverse the trends for those in trouble.

Please join our Atlas discussion forum, a place for everyone to share ideas, ask us questions, learn from each other, and more. There are already some great questions and conversations taking place there about survey types, zero counts, and more.

The weather forecast is looking great for surveying butterflies next week! Thank you for joining the atlas and helping us learn more about the conservation status of Vermont's butterflies.
A Look Back at the First Butterflies Recorded

Fittingly, the first eButterfly checklist of the year and the most recent checklist as of this writing both include the ubiquitous Cabbage White. From a chrysalis in January to a free-flying adult in May, these sightings bookend what’s been a productive, though fickle weather-wise, start to the Second Vermont Butterfly Atlas. With temps see-sawing between a sultry 80+ degrees and near-freezing in April, the few glorious warm spring days we’ve had so far have prompted a rush of eButterfly checklists. On one of these surprisingly warm days, I was shocked to see an American Lady fluttering in the leaf litter of Burlington’s Arms Forest!

With 46 Priority Blocks adopted so far, we’re off to a good start but still have far to go with 184 Priority Blocks spread across the state. Two atlas volunteers have reported West Virginia Whites in Bennington and Saxtons River, and the first of what will surely be many Red Admirals was photographed in late-April near Burlington. Mourning Cloaks have made up the vast majority of butterfly sightings in the early spring this year, though not to be overshadowed are two other early spring species that overwinter as adults: the Milbert’s and Compton Tortoiseshells. One Milbert’s Tortoiseshell was even spotted perched on snow!

Our two highest counts for an individual species so far come from Little River State Park in Waterbury and the Helen W Buckner Memorial Preserve in West Haven. A grand total of 9 Silvery Blues were reported from Buckner, the first time this year that species has been reported to the atlas, and a whopping 8 Compton Tortoiseshells were reported from Little River SP. No eButterfly checklist has tallied more than 5 different species so far this year, though that will surely change as more species become active. If you are one of the 20 atlas volunteers that have submitted an eButterfly checklist to the atlas, thank you! If you’ve been waiting for warmer days and for butterfly activity to pick up before getting out surveying, now is the time to crack open your butterfly field guides, test the close focus of your binoculars, and study your local Priority Block Map.
Special May Targets to Find

The longer days and warmer weather of May heralds the return of some of Vermont’s showiest butterflies, the swallowtails. While the first Tiger or Black Swallowtail of the season is a most welcome sight, some of the most interesting and sought after butterflies of early Spring are a bit more understated. The following species are closely tied to host plants and their associated specialized habitats:

West Virginia White
Rich hardwood forests are the place to go in search of this Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Look on the forest floor for the small white flowers of this species’ host plant, Two-leaved Toothwort. Be careful to rule out the similar Mustard White when identifying small white butterflies in deciduous woods, which shows dark green-black veins on the underside of the hindwing during the early spring. West Virginia Whites have been found across western Vermont, and most frequently in southwestern Vermont, though any large patches of toothwort found elsewhere in the state are worth a look.

Bog Elfin
A species of mythic status in Vermont, the Bog Elfin has never been recorded in the state, though there are many locations that would seem suitable for the species. Relying on Black Spruce as a host plant means this butterfly can only be found in bogs, which can be notoriously difficult to access and navigate. If you are able to visit a bog in late May, the primary flight period of this species, look for individuals perched upon Black Spruce trees over the bog or flying over the sphagnum mat on sunny days.

Henry’s Elfin
Originally reported only from the Dummerston area during the first atlas, Henry’s Elfin caterpillars feed on a few different host plants which may allow them to expand their range in the state. An individual I found and photographed in the Northeast Kingdom last May indicates this species may be more widely distributed in Vermont than we think. Search the edge of wooded swamps, upland heaths, sand plains, and open pine-oak woodlands for this species, and keep an eye out for areas with lots of potential host plants, which can include blueberries and buckthorn.

Early Hairstreak
While this species' host plant, American Beech, is abundant throughout the state, this butterfly's behavior makes it quite difficult to find. Early Hairstreaks can occasionally be found at ground level on sunny patches on dirt roads or on nectar sources near large beech stands. Frustratingly, they prefer to spend more time high in the canopy, and this behavior combined with their small size makes them very tricky to spot and photograph. Dirt roads, powerline cuts, and sunny trails near beech stands are the best places to check for this species on sunny days, especially if there are some wet spots along the road to initiate puddling.
Azures and Tigers and Crescents...Oh My!

These three groups can drive butterfly watchers in the Northeast to tears. Sometimes (many times?) all we can do is throw up our hands and add the observations as just that; Azure sp., Tiger Sp. or Crescent sp. And that is okay! But some of you may want to dive into the deep end and learn more about how to identify the species in these groups and learn about the state of the taxonomic science. We're here to help you with that. In the coming weeks we will be adding posts on the atlas website about each group and we'll update them as new information and science arises. Meanwhile, here's a little teaser from Bryan Pfeiffer about the state of azures a few years ago and musings about crescents. Don't even get us going yet about tigers...but the good news is, in May they are all (mostly...nearly so...a safe bet) Canadian Tiger Swallowtails in Vermont.
Record and Share Your Zero Checklists Too

It definitely happens, especially in spring. It is a perfectly sunny day and you just can't turn up a single butterfly. It seems like a wasted effort, but it isn't. Zero counts are important too! We want to know where and when you find no butterflies. Simply add a checklist to eButterfly as normal, but for species, add the name "Butterfly (SUPERFAMILY Papilionoidea)" in the species box and add a 0 to the count box. Answer yes to the question at the bottom and submit it. Here's an example from earlier this spring. Zeros are data too!
Should You Use the Site Visit Form?

While it isn't required, we highly recommend you use this paper form. It helps to make sure you don't forget any important information and makes it handy to enter your checklist into eButterfly later. It also provides us with information we might not have on the eButterfly checklist, such as habitats and other notes.

You use the Site Visit Form to record information about your survey place (site name, site location, date of visit, time at the site, etc.) and to keep a count of the butterflies you find. The Site Visit Form allows you to describe a site and note all butterfly species you encounter there. Complete a separate form every time you visit a site. You can send them all to us in the mail at the end of the season.

Field Tip! Fill out the top of the form before you begin your survey and then photograph it. All the images of butterflies after that belong to that survey. When you are finished, complete the form and photograph it again to signal the end of the survey on your camera.
Getting Started with eButterfly: Join a Webinar on Thursday, May 18 at 3PM

Every time butterfly watchers raise binoculars and cameras to record a butterfly sighting, they collect important data. Recording the number, date, and location of each and every butterfly, no matter how common or rare, may seem trivial, even repetitive— but this detailed information can be invaluable to science and conservation. Butterflies act as early warning signals for habitat degradation, climate change, and other ecological forces.

Do you want to learn more about how to use eButterfly? Join Dr. Rodrigo Solis Sosa, our Human Network and Data Coordinator at eButterfly, as he explains how to use eButterfly in this webinar and ask him all your burning questions.

And don't forget to check out our Help pages that will quickly get you started on using eButterfly. There’s a Quick Start Guide that takes you through each step when entering a butterfly checklist. Learn about our new crowd-sourced data vetting system and our identification tool and how you can quickly get started in helping to verify eButterfly data too. And learn how eButterfly helps you track your life, year, and month lists for countries, states and provinces automatically.