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January 22, 2024

40 Minutes

Guests: Kevin Burls

Tags: butterflies, pollinators, habitat, staff guests,

We’ve previously talked about overwintering monarchs seeking refuge in warmer climates, but what do other butterflies do during the winter? Do they also migrate? Do all butterflies overwinter as adults? If so, where do they hide — in leaves or rock piles or up in the trees? If not, how do they survive — what do these warm-loving butterflies do during the winter? 

Guest Information

As a conservation biologist for the endangered species program, Kevin’s Burls focuses on protecting the hundreds of butterfly species that inhabit deserts, forests, and grasslands across the western United States. Many of these species are currently in decline or are threatened by habitat loss, insecticides, and the effects of climate change. Kevin’s work includes collaborating with land managers and scientists to understand the conservation needs of butterfly species, then advocating for their protection by crafting conservation guidelines and legislation with agencies and policy makers at the regional, state, and federal levels.

Show Notes & Links

In this episode, we talk about the various ways that butterflies overwinter - as an adult, a larval, pupae, or egg. We provide different examples. We also talk about what we can do to support butterflies through their whole lifecycle. 

Transcript

Matthew: Welcome to bug banter with the Xerces society where we explore the world of invertebrates and how to help these extraordinary animals. If you want to support our work go to xerces.org/give.

Rachel: Hi, I'm Rachel in Missoula, Montana.

Matthew: I'm Matthew in Portland, Oregon.

Rachel: We’ve previously talked about overwintering monarchs seeking refuge in warmer climates, but what do other butterflies do during the winter? Do they also migrate? Do all butterflies overwinter as adults? If so, where do they hide — in leaves or rock piles or up in the trees? If not, how do they survive — what do these warm-loving butterflies do during the winter?

Rachel: To answer these questions and help us explore the world of wintering butterflies is Kevin Burls, Xerces Society Endangered Species Conservation Biologist. Kevin has spent several seasons searching for endemic and at-risk butterfly species in Nevada, and his work now focuses on protecting the hundreds of butterfly species that inhabit deserts, forests, and grasslands across the western United States.

Rachel: Welcome, Kevin. We're excited to have you here today.

Kevin: Thanks, Rachel. Thanks, Matthew. It's great to be here. I'm always excited to talk about the natural history of butterflies.

Kevin: That's always a highlight of mine. And certainly, at my home office in Washoe Valley, South of Reno, we just had about 8 inches of snow in the valley and 2 feet in the mountains the other day. I know there's other places having snow today too, so the topic seems appropriate.

Matthew: If you love talking about insects, this is the right place to be.

Kevin: Yeah, happy to be here.

Matthew: To start with, can you give us a sense of the diversity of butterflies? How many species are there in the world or the US?

Kevin: Yeah, and I always like to start these sorts of conversations out with, partly to satisfy my academic mentors who also studied moths, that of course butterflies are only one small portion of the order that we call Lepidoptera and so that includes both butterflies and moths.

Kevin: There are about 10 times as many moths as butterflies. And so, they really are a small portion of the group. But, of course, butterflies are the day flying variety that has really specialized on using the floral resource of nectar as adults and of course they also then have the amazing colors that we get to see on their wing scales.

Kevin: So, across the world there are somewhere over 17.5 thousand species of butterflies described and most of those are in the tropics. They are most diverse in the tropics, just like lots of groups of animals.

Kevin: And those butterflies are organized into 6 different families, so I’ll sometimes be referring to families when I talk about different species and so there's only 6 different families of butterflies. There are roughly 750 species or so of butterflies in the United States, including Hawaii, and there are slightly over 800 in all of North America.

Kevin: Most of the states with high butterfly diversity have some sort of subtropical habitats so you could think of places like Texas and Florida. Or, they often contain many different types of habitats and many different kinds of plant species to go along with those.

Kevin: So, I think of places like Arizona and California for places like that. And just to mention it, of course they range in size from being as small as the western pygmy blue whose wingspan is approximately half an inch across, and sometimes feels much smaller.

Kevin: Yeah, about the size of a pinky fingernail maybe. Yes, it is super cute, and we often find them just by the shadows that they make it's easier to chase their shadows than it is to chase the animal.

Kevin: And then on the other end of that scale, you have the giant swallow tail, which is over 6 inches across at its wing span. So, often over the size of your hand.

Rachel: Wow, I got the opportunity to see a blue morpho in Costa Rica. Those butterflies are so big and beautiful, but it was just for a split second because they flew so quickly, and you just see that shimmer of blue. I was like, oh, at least I got to see one for 2 seconds.

Kevin: Yeah, usually what, 1012 feet above the ground kind of flying in a straight line from one place to another. Yeah, that's right. They're quick.

Rachel: Yeah, it's amazing just to imagine the size differences in them. Do you have a favorite butterfly?

Kevin: I don't like picking favorites that much. I have to admit it's not my thing, but I do have 2 that really, after a little bit of thought really stuck out to me, from some of our recent work. So, for sheer beauty at first glance, my wife and I both like butterflies in the family Lycaenidae, which are sometimes called the gossamer-winged butterflies.

Kevin: They generally don't have a very strong directed flight, like the blue morpho does. They kind of flutter around in a typical very lazy fashion. And for me, one of my favorites in that group is the ruddy copper. Despite the name that it has, the upper side of that butterfly is a brilliant red orange color. And it's, extremely striking, at first glance.

Kevin: So that is one of my favorites just to go out into the field and look because when you find it, it's always a joy.

Kevin: And then for its biology, I think I do favor, one that we found in recent surveys called the, the small blue, Philotiella speciosa. It's not a very common butterfly and most populations of this species live in desert regions fairly isolated from one another and individuals can spend years in shallow desert soil as a chrysalis waiting for the rain conditions to match those that its plant needs to emerge out of the ground.

Kevin: It feeds on an annual plant that only lives for a single year and so it has to wait for just the right times, and they don't come every year. And so, getting to see that was certainly a highlight of our time.

Matthew: Yeah, I agree with you that trying to name your favorite is a hard one. I've often circled back, like you to the blues and the gossamer-wings just because of their beauty and but it's also that they're so small. And I'm often drawn towards the smaller things rather than the big showy ones. But in my experience often my favorite one is whatever I'm seeing, you know.

Matthew: It's like, this is the one I saw yesterday. I saw last week and that's what I'm seeing, you know, but yeah.

Matthew: But also, you mentioned that the butterfly chrysalis that stays in the soil for all those years. This ties back to like how the butterflies survive the winter. We know the monarch does it as an adult, do other butterflies that overwinter as an adult?

Kevin: Yeah, some butterflies do over winter as adults, although it is not the most common strategy. And most butterflies that over winter as adults are in the family that we call brush footed butterflies which is the Nymphalidae family.

Kevin: One of my favorite examples is the mourning cloak butterfly Nymphalis antiopa, which is found across the entire United States, including Alaska, as well as most of Canada. And this butterfly is often one of the first butterflies that folks can see in the springtime in most of the country and in many places, it can come out on a particularly warm sunny day in late winter or early, early March.

Kevin: I will not be surprised to see them on a very sunny day of spring break, and late March here in the Reno area, if you get the right weather. There are also a couple really cool looking, different looking butterflies in this same family that overwinter as adults and these are known as commas or angel wings.

Kevin: They have a very distinctive outer wing shape that looks like it was maybe carved with a jigsaw, I guess. And they're in mainly in the genus Polygonia. And many of these are forest dwellers, and they are extremely well camouflaged.

Kevin: The undersides of their wings look very much like tree bark. The gray pattern in brown mottled patterning, some have really cool green mossy colors intermixed with them. And they spend the winter just like you'd expect, nestled into wood crevices of large conifer trees in some areas, or deciduous trees.

Kevin: In the eastern species, the gray comma, the winter generation emerges and then actually rather quickly goes into that hibernation phase, and then emerges again in late spring, early summer, and then they have 2 generations. So, one lays eggs, has a full adult generation, they lay eggs, and that adult generation again goes right back into hibernation. So that's kind of a fun bit of life history.

Matthew: Yeah, can I just jump in with a little follow up? You mentioned, you know, the angel wings, the commas, the mourning flag. Is there a particular place or a type of location where the adults will hide? I mean, you say they overwinter but where would they actually go if there's a foot of snow on the ground, for example?

Kevin: Yeah, especially because there are some species that overwinter as adults that do combine some sort of movement, which we might talk about, but for those that overwinter in place, they're usually going to find refuge from the cold and snow in places like under rocks, in thick rock crevices, in really thick woody debris nestled into the crevices of living bark. Even of things like, out here we have Jeffrey Pine, which has really big bark on mature trees.

Kevin: And sometimes in seasonal buildings like sheds or cabins, it's not uncommon for folks to open up a seasonal shed and scare out a mourning cloak or 2.

Matthew: Yeah, I was remembering one time when I was visiting family in Britain. We went into what was an old, storage house like a couple of centuries old. And it had had been an ice house I believe and the ceiling was covered with tortoise shell butterflies overwintering.

Matthew: And so, there was probably a hundred or more just tucked away. And we were walking down by the beach and stumbled across this old structure and were like, oh, what's inside just because that’s what you do.

Matthew: And they were all just tucked up hanging from the signings and it was pretty cool.

Kevin: How fun to see them in that number? Yeah, that's great.

Matthew: Yeah, it's the only time I've ever seen anything like that at all.

Rachel: So, you mentioned that these are the butterflies that stay in place. Are there butterflies that also migrate or move around or are interactive in the winter time.

Kevin: Yes, so several species that overwinter adults do seem to combine this strategy with some sort of seasonal migration. And the best example of this in the Western US is probably the painted lady, Vanessa cardui, which can build up huge populations near the US Baja border.

Kevin: Oftentimes, though not always in El Nino years, big El Nino years, and then they explode northward, often with that generation flying hundreds of miles at a time without stopping in very directional flight.

Kevin: You can stumble upon them in large numbers on the right day, especially in places like the California central valley, and they do that by relying on huge fat reserves that they have built up as catapults and that is a somewhat distinct trait from some of the other generations of that butterfly, and it's a little noticeable in a somewhat distinct trait from some of the other generations of that butterfly.

Kevin: And it's a little noticeable in a somewhat morbid way when you run into them with your car. Because they're extraordinarily fatty on the windshield so there is that but it's noticeable and it's a real thing they have these huge fat reserves that they build up.

Kevin: And in the fall, at least some of their offspring will migrate back south, oftentimes in the west along the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains. But in this species, the butterflies that are moving south are kind of continuing to feed and possibly as they get much further south, and they'll begin to be laying eggs again.

Kevin: And, they'll continue breeding all year round in those most southerly locations. And that is part of what distinguishes them and most other migrating butterflies from the monarch butterfly where the same individual that leaves Idaho and flies southwest to the coast of California is going to go into reproductive diapause, stay in those groves all winter.

Kevin: And then that individual will be the one that starts the migration back into the most of the interior west the following spring.

Matthew: Yeah, because I do think it's interesting people have this idea. They know the monarch migrates, but they don't know that other insects do. And, I mean, you mentioned the painted lady. The painted lady is the one that makes it into the media every now and then either because it seems that there's a cloud of migrating butterflies spotted on weather radar or as you say there's a lot of mortality on roads and that actually can make roads dangerous sometimes and so that makes people notice when those kinds of things happen.

Kevin: Yes, and the painted lady by the way is, I believe the most widespread butterfly on the planet, and is found all over the world and also migrates from northern Africa and the Middle East to Europe during the summer and also returns.

Kevin: And so, you can often find them in large numbers in places like the Island of Cyprus, while they're making their migration. So you have it all across the globe. You have those concentrations of them.

Matthew: Yeah, I'm going to bore you with another British anecdote now. When I was living in Britain, I was working on Samphire Hoe which is just at the base of the White Cliff with Dover, and the narrowest part of the sea division between Europe and, Britain.

Matthew: And I happened to be working that day and it was a year when there was a huge painted lady migration and down there and the butterfly started flying.

Matthew: And all of a sudden, you're like, “What? That butterfly’s everywhere!” And it was one of those unusual years that doesn't normally happen in such numbers but again, just by chance I was there on that morning when the butterflies started arriving from across the channel. And it was just, again, one of those experiences that stuck with me. And help moved me along in the direction of my career. So, pretty amazing.

Kevin: Yeah, well seeing that sort of thing in large numbers I think is a one of a kind of great phenomena of the natural world, right? And it is the insect equivalent of large migrations of caribou, or you know historic herds of bison on the plains. You know, it is an amazing thing to see something in that large number.

Kevin: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s very apropos to talk about, British anecdotes with migrating butterflies, I think, because you know in addition to the painted lady the red admiral, is another butterfly that also exists in the old world and migrates across most of its range, including Europe and eastern North America, although it doesn't appear to migrate as much in the western parts of North America, at least to the to the same extent it's not as apparent.

Kevin: So yeah, there's multiple butterflies in that kind of brush-footed little grouping of Nymphalidae that are shared across the pond as it were.

Rachel: You mentioned that most butterflies don't overwinter as adults. That's not the common thing that we find. So, why is it that some species do overwinter as adults and then obviously, other butterflies overwinter in their larval stage or another stage, probably the most common I think is the larval.

Rachel: So, do we know why do they choose those different strategies to survive winter? And do we know is the better question?

Kevin: It is a really good question, and we certainly don't always know and it’s not in my nature to predict why a certain species does a certain thing off the top of my head. That comes from my training as an evolutionary biologist, and adaptation is something that happens, but it is certainly not always the default reason we should ask why a trait is there. And but it is the way why it is the way that people ask that question.

Kevin: So, it's a very good question because that's how people ask that question. So, I guess I will go back to again, my work as an evolutionary biologist and just point out that there is what we call a phylogenetic signal.

Kevin: In this trait, which is closely related species tend to share the overwintering strategies. And so, it's a fairly closely related group of Nymphalids that we've been talking about that overwinter as adults and tend to share this migration strategy, although of course it is shared in other places, right?

Kevin: I don't mean to say that's the only place we see it. But as another example many coppers and hair streaks overwinter as eggs while another group of butterflies in the same Lycaenidae family overwinter as chrysalises.

Kevin: So, there is certainly a lot of shared heritage in that trait. And that is because it is a trade driven by many genetic and physiological limitations. So, it's not something that we can always jump up and change and the extreme example that I give to people is it might be adaptive for us to grow wings, but we do not have the genetic variation to do that with.

Kevin: And so, within a species, they just don't always have that variation to just shift all of a sudden. So beyond, you know, your heritage as it were, I suppose we might expect that migratory butterflies, like other migratory butterflies, like other migratory species are moving based on resource shifts that are moving based on resource shifts that are seasonal in nature.

Kevin: And so, that could be breeding habitat. It could be evading cold temperatures. It could be finding resources that are available in other locations. And it's possible, I suppose, that overwintering in place as an adult might just be left over from a species that migrated in the past. That's just an example of how those things can come to pass, right?

Kevin: And overwintering as a larva, again, just to spin speculations, right, as to how things can work, overwintering as a larva can be successful in that you're ready to eat plants as soon as they are available.

Kevin: So, you might beat out some of the others before competition. Overwintering as an egg can be useful because honestly it is a fairly simple structure compared to a growing larval organism or a rearranging chrysalis. And we're a fragile adult and so you can see that there might be tradeoffs to each one.

Kevin: And I think the overall goal or the point that, back to the idea of things not necessarily having to be super adaptive or the best, is that if you aren't going to leave, you have to find a way to do it. And so, in the things that are around, everybody finds a way because that's, that's how you keep yourself around as you find a way to spend the winter months, we all do.

Matthew: Okay. Yeah, that was a great. There's so much information in that. I'm just kind of this passing through my head as I'm as I'm thinking about it. I'm just interested. You mentioned eggs, chrysalis. I mean other examples of butterflies that might overwinter as an egg or when you mentioned the, the one that the chrysalis is buried in soil for a few years.

Matthew: I mean, I just find these kinds of behaviors and strategies from insects just so amazing. I always want to dig in and learn more.

Kevin: Yeah, that's where some of the amazing variation really is, right? That's where some of the diversity really lies.

Kevin: Yeah, so it is true that probably the majority, to some extent or another of butterfly species in the US at least overwinter as caterpillars, the larval stage. And just as an easy example, skipper butterflies in the family Hesperiidaethat feed on grasses will often overwinter is partially grown larvae and they'll take the grass leaves and curl them around with silk, and make a little silk shelter. And they'll last the winter in that little silk shelter.

Kevin: You can see that being really advantageous in grasses, they start growing really early, they start growing really fast. There's a fair amount of competition for them, so it's nice to be around. One of my favorite examples of larvae overwintering though is more extreme.

Kevin: It is in the Nymphalidae family with the true fritillaries. There's a whole set of butterflies and these butterflies feed on violets and adults in the late summer lay eggs on or near violent plants that are already dead for the year.

Kevin: So, this would be late August, early September. The caterpillars hatched on or near violet plants that are already dead for the year. The caterpillars hatch and they immediately eat their egg shells, which other species do as well. And then they go into reproductive diapause without eating any food or any other plant material at all and they spend that entire winter unfed as for what we call first instar that's the very beginning larvae.

Kevin: And then in the springtime, when the violets begin to grow, they become active again and start to devour violet plants and they typically have to move from one violet plant to another to another to another through their growth.

Kevin: And then they will emerge as adults in late spring, early summer. So, they have a very hard first test that first strategy for them is rough and another fun thing about that set of butterflies for one reason or another the females after they emerge as adults will often mate and then go into a summer diapause while the males will continue to fly around all summer.

Kevin: So most of the year in the summer time, you can only find males, although you can find the females at the very beginning of their flight and then at the end for a few weeks.

Matthew: So, the females just kind of sleep the summer through.

Kevin: That seems to be the case. Yeah, if they're saving resources or yeah, evading the heat. I don't know why the males don't choose to do the same thing either. I am not clear on that. The guys are not always the most intelligent, I think that's it. Often true in the insect world at least if not other places too.

Kevin: So, coming back to the small blue that I mentioned earlier, that species it does over winter as a chrysalis and it's not a very flashy one. And so, as I said, it feeds on an annual plant in the buckwheat family and most populations are in desert-y areas that don't get very much rain and that rain is very sporadic even seasonal.

Kevin: And so, it waits for springtime rains that come just at the right time for this annual plant to emerge and it has its queues timed similarly so that it emerges right when the plant is available for it to lay eggs on and it has to be early enough so that the eggs that it lays can hatch and fully develop on that plant while it's still alive and thriving.

Kevin: Usually fairly early in the desert summer, late April, early May. And then it will turn into its chrysalis state in shallow desert soil or potentially under leaf litter of some of the annual plants that are around as well.

Kevin: And then it will wait again for the right rains. And in my experience in our area that's every 3 to 6 years. So that's it. Typical overwintering cycle and maybe the most extreme example of this that I know of is from a 2018 study done by Todd Stout who is in Utah and he was raising a set of species that are in the Anthocharis genus, which is the orange tips.

Kevin: He was looking at a desert orange tip, which is the cethura species. And he collected it from Clark County, Nevada in March, 1997 as an egg, and reared the egg. And that pupa hatched in March, 2008, 11 years later.

Kevin: So that is the longest that I have found from North America. Most individuals in that species it seems to be 2 to 3 years but 11 years and those species, those individuals overwinter and that is something that you might also see in native bees as well.

Kevin: So, if the chance comes up to talk about some native bee species overwintering strategies you would see very similar strategies where they can wait out enormous amounts of time.

Matthew: Talking about blue butterflies in the ground, it makes me think of those species that have the close relationship with the ants. The ants collect the small caterpillars, the early instar caterpillars, take them into the nest.

Matthew: From what I remember. Those butterflies complete the life cycle through the adult in the nest and then out from underground as an adult. I mean, I'm sorry if I'm putting you on the spot here because this may not be your area of knowledge but am I right about that? And if so I'm presumably then they must overwinter in the nest because I can't imagine it would come out as an adult.

Matthew: Well, do they come out and lay eggs and then overwinter anyway? I honestly, I just find that life cycle so fascinating that these butterflies are reliant upon. And to collect them. And then look after them underground and it just seems so completely opposite to most people's imagined picture of what a life of a butterfly is.

Kevin: Yeah. That is a really great example of what we call a mutualism. In some instances, it's a mutualism and actually in the example you are talking about, I'm not sure that it classifies as mutualism because I'm not sure what the ants get out of it.

Kevin: And so most not all, certainly, but many butterfly species that have a relationship of some kind with ants are in that Lycaenidae family again, the gossamer-wing families. There are some species that do complete their life cycle and are tended by the ants in the ant colony and they do seem to come out as adults and those are for the species that we know that lifecycle for and there are probably others where we don't know the whole lifecycle where that may be the reason because they're completing it in an ant colony.

Kevin: So, it's unclear in some instances and known in others, and probably will find more examples of that because it's a pretty newly discovered behavior in some ways. Most butterflies in that family, they have a relationship with ants though it is slightly simpler, which is that the caterpillars are tended, we call it tended by the ants, on the plants that the caterpillars feed on normally.

Kevin: And in those instances, there are special organs on the back of the caterpillar that secrete a sugary substance similar to the honeydew that aphids produce as a waste product. And this is attractive to the ants, and the ants will gather the sugary solution that they need.

Kevin: And in return, they vigorously defend them against some forms of predation or parasitism. And so that is the more common relationship where it does appear to be a mutualism and it might be that finding your way into the ant colony is a behavior that evolved from that tending behavior that's slightly more general.

Matthew: Yeah, because the blue butterflies in the ant colony, like you say, I'm not sure whether it's a mutualism, since the caterpillar is eating the ant eggs and such like. So, it's like, how do the ants benefit from that? But, I think it's great.

Matthew: There are always some things we don't know the answers to and we can just wonder and that's one reason why I love nature. There are so many things to just be amazed by and not necessarily have to get worried that I just don't know the answer to it all.

Kevin: Yeah, especially those sorts of relationships that we as people call cryptic, which means they're hard for us to observe. And are often very, very detailed and intimately choreographed. It takes a long time to explore the dynamics of those relationships in a scientific framework. It takes a long time.

Rachel: I do want to clarify something. I think you had said the ants defend the ants from parasitism. You meant the caterpillar, right? Okay, I was like, that makes a lot more sense.

Kevin: Oh, jeez, did I say that? Thank you. Yes, of course. Thanks.

Rachel: I assumed that's what you meant. I just wanted to clarify. I was like, that is some snazzy sugary substance from those caterpillars that they're also protecting the ants from like giving them this cool defense mechanism.

Rachel: But no, that makes a lot of sense. I wish we had these tiny, tiny cameras that we can almost put on the caterpillars and then observe inside the ant colony and see what's going on. Almost like a Bugs Life. That would be very cool.

Rachel: So, I think most people when we think about butterflies, we often think about them in the summertime. When it's warm, you see the caterpillars, cause that's the time of year that we see them, right?

Rachel: And so, we think about habitat and what we can do to help the adults or the caterpillars or the chrysalis, but when the weather is not so nice and we're in the winter, is it just as important for us to consider winter habitat?

Rachel: Are there ways that we're impacting butterflies that maybe we don't even realize in the winter and what are things that we can do to help support them in the winter? Because, obviously supporting the entire lifecycle is really important.

Rachel: We can't just support one part of their life cycle, we need to consider the entirety of it.

Kevin: Yeah, winter habitat is certainly important for butterflies and moths just as it is for other insects. Like I said, if you don't leave, you have to stay there and find a way. And so, we have already talked about how Butterflies that overwinter as adults nestle in tree cavities, or under leaf litter and in rock crevices.

Kevin: And especially in areas where the trees in your yard are native to the area, they very well may have moths and butterflies overwintering in their bark, or eggs and pupae attached to their fallen leaves that will fall near the base of the tree and are then readily available for the caterpillars when they emerge in the springtime. So, leaving leaves and plants through the winter in that way is very valuable.

Kevin: As well as managing the timing of when you do any type of management technique. Whether it's mulching or mowing or so on. There are more and less appropriate times because of where they are at, different times in their life cycle.

Kevin: Probably the best and most straightforward thing that people can do for butterflies through their whole life cycle is add the plants that the caterpillars need to eat. Folks are becoming more familiar now with plants that provide adult butterflies with nectar along with bees and other flying insects.

Kevin: But while butterflies can visit many types of flowers as adults, most species can only eat one or a few types of plants as caterpillars. Monarchs, for example, feed only on milkweeds, which are plants in one genus Asclepius. The ruddy copper that I mentioned earlier feeds on docks and sorrels which are in the buckwheat family.

Kevin: And so, by planting the correct caterpillar food plants for the butterflies that are in your area, you are oftentimes providing both the summer habitat that they need, and the winter habitat that they need to complete their life cycle because for example most of those blue butterflies are not going to lay their eggs far from the plant.

Kevin: Their caterpillars do not move very much. Their adults do not move very much. There's no advantage of them to spread their eggs out on the landscape. So, that plant is their habitat throughout their entire life cycle. So that's not always the case, but certainly adding the plants there.

Kevin: They need those plants at some point or another and so they're not usually going to stray that far.

Matthew: Yeah, that's great. So, what inspired you to work with Butterflies, and that conservation?

Kevin: I appreciate that question. It's always fun to think back a little bit. I have been camping since I was 5 or 6 years old. Thanks to my parents, and being in scouts, but beyond kind of an initial love of the outdoors, my restoration ecology course and my undergraduate degree were really formative for me, I think, beyond butterflies.

Kevin: My advisor, Dr. Charles McLaren really in that course helped show me how human disturbed landscapes could be really important habitats for all sorts of plants and animals. And even more importantly, it showed me that when we make careful, conscious, thoughtful decisions about our actions, we can improve our landscapes and have a positive effect on those plants and animals through our own actions, through our own disturbances as it were.

Kevin: That was really informative for me to understand our place on the landscape and what we can do with the animals and plants that are around us to benefit them and us at the same time. When it comes to butterflies, after I finished my PhD and my wife finished her master's, we were looking for a way to stay in the area, and at the same time excite other people about insects and science and the landscapes the way we were excited about them and love to travel through them.

Kevin: And I know I'm biased, but butterflies are a great way to introduce the public to insects and some of some of what insects do on the landscape. Some of them are just, you know, they're so big, they're brightly colored, they don't sting. My wife and I always call them the gateway insect.

Kevin: So, earlier in our operations, we ran a seasonal butterfly house for 5 years. And during that time, we really got in touch with a large range of butterflies and their life cycles, rearing those butterflies for the butterfly house, and talking with families about butterflies. Talking about their life cycles, and their ecology, exactly this stuff we've been talking about here today, in a butterfly house with the butterflies that we raised that are from our area, is always going to be a highlight of my life for me.

Kevin: There’s nothing like that connection between you and the public and the animals. And so many of the species we worked with at that time were relatively common, but since then I've had these opportunities to go look for some of Nevada's rare butterflies. And it really drives home that if we protect them in very simple ways by making these thoughtful decisions, we can have such a positive impact on them.

Kevin: These are butterflies that survive adjacent to alkaline peat flats with a pH in the soil of over 10 that reach 105°F in the summer and negative 10°F in the winter and they might be inundated with water for 3 months in the spring, and then they'll have almost no rain at all for the next 4 months and they do just fine. Or they sit in the sand for years and wait for a super bloom to come along. And so, having lived in Nevada for 15 years now, I know personally that that lifestyle appeals to the people out here.

Kevin: I know that that appeals to people of the West. I know that if you talk to them and educate them about the amazing diversity of these animals that they will also want to protect them. And it gives me that motivation to do the work that I do here. And so, I'm really grateful to be able to help landowners, land managers and policy makers make these decisions that can allow these animals to continue their own ways of life too.

Rachel: That was so inspiring!

Matthew: Okay. Yeah, I was going to say, just listening to you there, I can see why others would be pulled in as well.

Rachel: It's really incredible. We think of butterflies, these fragile animals, but they're so hardy and incredible and I think we can learn so much from them. So, thank you so much for sharing that and thank you for coming today and just teaching us so much about these butterflies I learned a lot.

Kevin: Well, thank you both so much for having me. Like I said, I always enjoy chatting natural history. It's always a good time. So, thanks very much.

Rachel: Bug Banter is brought to you by the Xerces Society, a donor supported non-profit that works to protect insects and other invertebrates – the life that sustains us.

Rachel: If you’re already a donor, thank you so much. If you want to support our work go to xerces.org/donate. For information about this podcast and show notes go to xerces.org/bugbanter.