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UF Experts Encourage Butterfly Watching to Take Wing With New Publications

Jaret Daniels makes notes on a giant swallowtail feeding at the UF campus
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Butterfly lovers used to catch and collect the insects, but in recent years, just watching them has become popular – and University of Florida experts say it could boost scientific research and economic development.

To encourage hobbyists, UF recently issued four publications aimed at newcomers, written by Jaret Daniels, an assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The publications, produced in collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, cover butterfly watching basics, Florida butterfly gardening, 50 common butterflies of Florida and a butterfly checklist. They’re sold as a package, titled Florida Butterfly Encounters, available for $7 from UF’s IFAS Extension Bookstore.

To find the package, go to ifasbooks.ufl.edu, find the “Natural Resources” section, click on “Books” and scroll to the bottom of the page.

“Butterfly watching is a good activity for families because it doesn’t require you to get up at 6:00am – you can get up at 10:00am and not miss anything,” said Daniels, assistant director for research with the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Butterflies are typically active during the summer and most can be found near flowering plants, he said. Some species prefer sun, others like shade. Florida is home to 187 butterfly species, about 10 percent of them found nowhere else.

All that’s needed is patience, sunblock and the ability to recognize a few common species, Daniels said. But it doesn’t hurt to take along a butterfly field guide, binoculars and a notebook and pen to record observations.

For those who want to become more involved, there’s the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network, a statewide organization based at UF’s McGuire Center.

To help UF scientists keep tabs on local populations, FBMN trains volunteers to observe butterflies and report data, Daniels said. By sharing information with policymakers and land managers, FBMN promotes conservation and public awareness.

The health of butterfly populations in an area can provide a yardstick for gauging the ecosystem’s overall health, said Akers Pence, FBMN state program coordinator and one of Daniels’ postdoctoral associates.

Butterflies are well-suited to this type of assessment because they’re large and easy to identify, Pence said.

Those characteristics are part of the reason butterflies could play a larger role in Florida’s ecotourism industry, said Anne Glick, section leader for wildlife viewing partnership and outreach with the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tallahassee.

Commission personnel developed the idea for the butterfly-watching publications several years ago, in response to rising interest in the hobby nationwide, Glick said. It’s part of a larger FWC effort to spur interest in Florida ecotourism.

The Sunshine State is the nation’s No. 1 destination for wildlife viewing, Glick said. In 2006, 4.2 million people watched Florida wildlife, generating retail sales of $3.1 billion, according to an FWC report.

Later this year, FWC will begin providing butterfly-watching information at many sites in the eastern section of the Great Florida Birding Trail, which includes 135 sites in 18 counties. The agency is also working with UF to establish a demonstration butterfly garden at the Chinsegut Nature Center near Brooksville, scheduled to open in November.

Interest in butterfly watching continues to grow, and the hobby could benefit from further crossover with bird watching, said Doug Taron, director of the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network.

“A large percentage of our monitors came to us from the birding community,” said Taron, based in Chicago. “It seems to be a natural fit. Many of the skills are similar, and people find they enjoy using that skill-set for a new group of organisms.”

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