Monday, July 02, 2007

The Endangered Regal Fritillary

While driving back to NJ from our "guys' baseball weekend" in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, we passed by the exit to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. The huge green exit sign sparked something in my memory... why did I know this place? Ahh yes... Fort Indian Town Gap is home to the only viable colony of the Regal Fritillary butterfly in the eastern US. Specifically, it lives on the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center.

The range of the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) originally stretched from Maine to Montana and south to Oklahoma and North Carolina. Because the caterpillars utilize the prairie species of violets, this species was never found outside tallgrass prairie. Over the last 50 years, the species has sharply declined in the east and has lost 30% of its range due to many possible factors. Suburban sprawl and the conversion of prairies to farmland has led to severe habitat loss. Use of herbicides and pesticides could also affect populations. These butterflies also have a rather haphazard method for laying eggs. Instead of laying their eggs directly on the host plants, like most butterflies do, they lay their eggs randomly throughout their grassland habitat. To make up for this approach, they lay about 2,400 eggs - more than most other butterflies. Combining habitat loss and limited host plants, their egg-laying strategy could be causing additional population declines.

In the right habitat, Regal Fritillaries can be seen flying all summer. They lay eggs during late summer and those eggs overwinter and hatch the following summer. If you're interested in seeing this species in the east, tours are available at Fort Indiantown Gap during the month of July.

Is it too late for this species in the east? Their one remaining population is hanging on and there are re-introduction programs underway in New England and some mid-Atlantic states. Only time will tell if this beautiful species can regain its historic status.

Source: Great Plains Nature Center
Picture: The Nature Conservancy


Rick said...

The good news is that it apears to be relatively easy to manage for Regal Fritillary. Already rare when I was a kid birding in southeast Nebraska, this beautiful species has held on well there wherever largish grasslands have been preserved. So cross your fingers and push for grassland conservation in the east!

Larry said...

I'm starting to enjoy spotting butterflies-It makes birding a little more diverse.-sorry to hear that it is endangered over our way.

Corey said...

Welcome back! And how were the games? Sweet butterfly too...

Patrick Belardo said...

Rick, that's great to know. We all know the plight of grasslands in the northeast, especially NJ. I'd be so thrilled if we established a population here.

Larry, butterflies are great. It definitely adds a little extra to a birding day.

Corey, great games and great stadiums. The Indians won with a walk-off homer from a rookie who also had his first hit that game. The Bucs won too despite a walk-out protest by some fans due to the team losing money.