Bringing Butterflies Back

Baltimore checkerspot butterflies prior to release in Illinois.

On 24 June, I participated in the last of six workshops in the Imperiled Butterfly Conservation and Management (IBCM) professional series wrapped up at the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  This truly was a grand finale, as over 30 workshop participants from around the United States and Canada experienced the awesome impact of what long-term dedication, teamwork, and creativity can have on both butterflies and habitat in need.

Illinois has lost over 99.9 percent of its native prairie habitat. Since the early 1980s, staff from the Notebaert Nature Museum have dedicated their time and skills to restoring prairie habitat in the Chicago area and carefully researching, raising, and releasing butterflies – including the regal and silver-bordered fritillaries and the Gorgone and Baltimore checkerspot butterflies – that have become frighteningly rare. Their efforts are paying off in the creation of hundreds of acres of native habitat and in the consistent presence of butterflies in areas where they had disappeared.

Habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, and climate change all conspire to impact species around the world. Conservation practitioners have increasingly focused on insects – and butterflies in particular – in order to bolster local conservation efforts and community engagement and stewardship.  However, many of these efforts could become more effective through improved skills in insect biology and conservation planning, project implementation, and evaluation.

Restored prairie habitat in Illinois.

Over the course of three years and six workshops, IBCM participants improved exactly that set of skills by visiting butterfly conservation programs around the United States. As a result, new butterfly conservation programs are popping up from Florida to Michigan and from California to South Carolina. Many long-term programs are also benefitting from staff having learned new tricks of the trade from each other over the course of the workshops.

This important workshop series was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Service’s 21st Century

About the author: Shelly Grow is AZA's Conservation Biologist and a longtime fan of invertebrates - especially butterflies!

Museum Professionals grant program and led by the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative. Beyond those entities, IBCM is a broad partnership that also involves the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum; the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Ore.; the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio; Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, Fla; the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in Silver Spring, Md., and the University of Florida IFAS Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Shelly Grow

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