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Monarch Madness

The Annual Audubon Butterfly Count is back to keep tabs on the colorful critters

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It’s time to strap on your boots, grab your binoculars and charge your camera – the butterfly hunt is on. Veteran naturalists and newly enthusiastic butterfly lovers will be teaming up on July 22 for the state’s annual Butterfly Count. From Smithfield to Exeter to Charlestown, volunteers will help observe, identify and record the local butterfly species.

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island, which aims to protect valuable wildlife and their natural habitats, teams up with the North American Butterfly Association to monitor butterfly populations. The project aims to “document the number of species and individuals seen in Rhode Island over a long period of time,” says Jon Scoones, ASRI’s director of volunteer services. Since last year’s event, the volunteers have covered all five Rhode Island counties, weaving in and out of fields and encountering over 2,000 individual butterflies and 58 species.

So what exactly does a butterfly count involve? According to Jon, volunteers are trained to identify local butterflies and then assigned to a team; they spend a day in nature rotating positions, from tracking the butterflies as they change locations to identifying the species. No prior entomological (aka bug science) experience is required.

This citizen science, Jon says, “helps scientists in the little state of Rhode Island, helps people see pollinating in butterflies, [helps] lawmakers make informed decisions about open space and open habitats, and allows universities and colleges to determine what they want to do” with regard to research and preservation activities. And while Jon emphasizes the usefulness of the scientific data gathered by the volunteers, he also acknowledges that the count is a lot of fun.