When I took my current job at Kankakee Sands, one of the biggest draws was to be able to work on insect conservation. That shouldn’t surprise you by now if you have been reading for very long.
Kankakee Sands, as a region, is a hotspot for the endangered regal fritillary butterfly in both Indiana and Illinois. Unless you are in a high-quality remnant or an adjacent habitat, you will likely never see one.
Late June and early July is the prime time to see them. This also is the time population surveys are done in the region. I participated in my first survey at Kankakee Sands this year. The idea is that staff and volunteers are assigned small subunits across thousands of acres to count butterflies.
Once we arrive at our designated spots, we do a timed 30-minute search, as we meander through our area marking down any regals we see while also trying to identify if they are male or female.
A second person will survey the same area on the same day, and those numbers will be averaged to get an accurate picture of how many regals occupy a given area.
Over time, those numbers are tracked to better understand how the overall population is doing across each subunit and overall area.
In my picture, you are seeing a male regal fritillary. You can tell by looking at the two rows of spots on the hind wing. A female would have two rows of white spots, while the male has an outer row of orange spots. These spots are somewhat faded in my picture, which can make gender ID tricky in the field as they fly past you.
Not too long ago, the regal fritillary was only found in one preserve in the state of Indiana. Kankakee Sands was built around that site with the hope that restored surrounding habitat might allow the butterfly to expand out to new habitat, grow its population and thrive as a species.
It is early, but 2020 was the highest regal fritillary butterfly count thus far. I am excited to be able to work on this conservation puzzle.