Annual butterfly count nets 44 species

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By Emory Williamson

Charles Covell spent early Saturday morning preparing to engage in an expedition studying wildlife in the wooded, hilly terrain of the Horner Wildlife Sanctuary near Brownsboro.

Ferocious, stalwart carnivores? No. Slimy, slithering reptilians? Hardly.

Try colorful and graceful. Elegant even. For Covell, a biology professor emeritus at the University of Louisville, and 29 other participants, Saturday morning was his time to count 


Inspired by the Audubon Society’s annual bird counts, the North American Butterfly Association hosts hundreds of butterfly counts in the U.S., Canada and Mexico and publishes the results. Covell said the counts in the Horner Wildlife Sanctuary – 250 acres – began in 1976 and counters have found 26,000 individual butterflies, including 70 different species of butterflies.

Covell said the count fluctuates year-to-year based on weather patterns, what’s blooming and the number of people involved who have experience with butterflies.

Yet even with numbers down this year and temperatures rising, participants said the experience was enjoyable.

Richard Henderson Sr.  brought six members of his family to the sanctuary.

“I’m always interested in butterflies and I’ve enjoyed it all these years,” Henderson said.

Henderson has studied butterflies and moths, and participated in Covell’s butterfly counts for the past 15 years.

Henderson’s son, Perry, watches for his three kids and nephew as they quickly venture down the hilly path of grass swiping their nets for butterflies.

“I’m not really into bugs, but you’re talking to a bug master there,” Perry said of his father.

Henderson said he hopes his grandchildren may take the same interest he developed as a teenager, despite  easily accessible modern technology.

“It gets them into nature and things around them that they only hear about in school and science classes,” Henderson said, marking his clipboard filled with nearly 70 butterfly names after spotting one – and identifying it – nearly 50 feet away. “I’m hoping somewhere they’ll take the interest and get to enjoy what the planet is all about.”

Covell said the purpose of the counting is to have a year-to-year idea of the ebb and flow of the number of species and individual species in a given area. He said this year’s total – 44 species and more than 2,201 individuals – is one of the best counts in years.

“People usually love to see the butterflies,” Covell said, who has been studying butterflies since he was 13. “I like to have people come and join us to walk through and see what they can. The main thing is to get outdoors and become familiar with butterflies and learn what some of them are.”

Covell said the counts are also important to understand the effects of climate change on butterflies. In the last 10 years, at least four species of butterflies have been found in the area that normally aren’t found during that time.

One species has disappeared from their annual count in the area.

“Climate change has something to do with it,” Covell said.


E-mail us about this story at: emory@oldhamera.com