Butterfly counting popular

The 20th Annual Butterfly Count took place at Waterton Lakes National Park on July 25 and not on July 19th due to windy weather.

These citizen-science inventories contribute to the broader understanding of the biodiversity of butterflies in Waterton Lakes National Park,” Dallas Meidinger, Partnering, Engagement and Communications Officer for the Waterton Lakes Field Unit of Parks Canada. “Information gathered through this butterfly count allows our ecologists to develop species lists and contribute to a wider knowledge of butterfly diversity in southern Alberta. Long standing datasets such as these also allow us to monitor trends.”

Meidinger says that the day started with some celebratory snacks and short remarks about the event’s 20th anniversary. Following the remarks, volunteers participated in an informal, general introduction to the world of butterflies, their common groupings, and how the count would be conducted.  Volunteers were then loaned a butterfly net and each field group was loaned identification guidebooks. From there, we divided into smaller field groups with an expert and Parks Canada staff, and then car pooled to various locations in the park to catch and count butterflies. 

“We had an excellent volunteer turn out for the count with 44 citizen scientists helping collect and count butterflies in Waterton Lakes National Park,” Meidinger says. “Parks Canada staff, experts and citizen scientists collected and released 111 individual butterflies and identified 28 butterfly species, near the yearly average of 32. We caught 21 Clouded Sulphurs (Colias Philodice) which is unsurprising due to their general abundance at this time.”

Meidinger says that the 2019 butterfly count took place at the Red Rock Parkway, Wishbone trail, near Sofa Mountain, Belly River campground, the bison paddock and the Prince of Wales hill. 

The butterfly count, Meidinger says, avoids the critical habitat for the half-moon hairstreak butterfly on the Blakiston Fan in order to protect this species and its habitat, which is protected under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. The Blakiston Fan, Meidinger adds, is the only location where this butterfly is known to occur in Alberta. 

“Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), Parks Canada is responsible for the protection and recovery of listed species found in Waterton Lakes National Park, such as the endangered half-moon hairstreak butterfly,” Meidinger says. “We ask visitors to please stay off the vegetation in the Blakiston Fan area of the park, which is critical to the butterfly’s survival.”

Meidinger says that the first Waterton Lakes National Park Butterfly Count was held July 8, 2000 and it was organized by Parks Canada staff member, Kim Pearson, who studied butterfly identification under Barb Beck at the University of Alberta, and butterfly researcher Sherri Fownes. Current count co-leader Mira Vanhala volunteered at that initial count, Meidinger says. Several other Alberta butterfly identification experts, including Barb Beck, John Acorn and Ted Pike, have assisted with the count over the years. The butterfly count averages 32 participants per year, Meidinger says.

“Over the 20 years, the annual WLNP Butterfly Count has recorded 105 butterfly species. This high level of butterfly diversity in a small area is consistent with other taxa in the park,” Meidinger says. “The highest number of species identified on a count day was 52 in 2002. We have recorded 105 different species in total through the annual counts. Species have been found from each of the five butterfly families in Alberta.”

The butterfly count, Meidinger says, is a fun, family-friendly activity where visitors can team up with scientists to discover plant and animal species and contribute to their protection in Waterton. At this time of year, many groups of plants and insects are at the peak of their activity cycles or are the most visible, making it the perfect time to get out and get involved.

“Parks Canada is committed to maintaining or restoring the ecological integrity of national parks and provides Canadians with opportunities to discover, enjoy and connect with these specials places,” Meidinger says. 

Those who are interested in participating in future Butterfly Counts are encouraged to register as soon as possible by email to pc.wlnp-volunteer.pc@canada.caor phone the Visitor Centre at 403-859-5133. For more information on volunteering or partaking in the count, visit:  www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/waterton/activ/benevolat-volunteer.

“Parks Canada is a recognized leader in conservation and takes actions to preserve national parks and national marine conservation areas and contribute to the recovery of species at risk,” Meidinger says. “Butterflies are important to the ecosystem, both as prey species and as pollinators. A diverse profusion of butterflies can indicate that an ecosystem is healthy and flourishing. They’re also beautiful and fascinating insects to observe.”


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