New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network Update

By Steve Cary

2021 was a memorable year in so many ways, not the least of which was the growth and progress made by the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network (NMBMN), which is managed by Anna Walker. Her informative summary of the program’s 2021 accomplishments follows as a guest post. A handful of important announcements for our new year, 2022, then follow her report, so please keep reading!


New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network, 2021 Update, by Anna Walker

Over the last few decades, experts have been sounding the alarm about sweeping declines in insect populations globally. Increasing pressures from urban development, agricultural intensification, and climate change suggest many species will continue to struggle. Considering these threats, researchers are rushing to better understand which species are in decline and why, so that habitats can be protected, threats can be mitigated, and the loss of species can be slowed. 

For butterflies, community scientists have been paramount to this data gathering exercise. Much of what we understand about butterfly declines here in the US, has been informed by data from volunteer programs like the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Butterfly Counts and the North American Butterfly Monitoring Network. To build on the work of these existing programs, the New Mexico BioPark Society launched the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network (NMBMN) in 2020.

During the 2021 season, 15 community science volunteers collectively spent 217 hours to completed 186 surveys, on 17 different routes across the state. From foothill woodlands of the Southern Rockies to the Rio Grande floodplain of the Arizona/ New Mexico Plateau, the program has sampled the butterfly fauna in eight of the state’s fifty or so ecoregions. The surveys have picked up 5,113 individual butterflies, from 75 different species. The data collected via these Pollard Walk surveys will provide an index of abundance of the butterflies counted, which can be compared across habitats, sites, and years.

Figure 1. Volunteer running a Pollard Walk survey in the Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Bosque.

The New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network is one of 32 programs under the umbrella of the North American Butterfly Monitoring Network. The combined data from these programs provides a large-scale standardized dataset, designed to track the health of butterfly populations over time.  The data is also open access, so researchers, conservationists, and land managers can use it to inform habitat management decisions, evaluate the health of butterfly populations, and measure the success of conservation efforts. 

Figure 2. After two years of surveys, these are the ten most reported butterflies, so far.

This program is new and growing, so if you are interested in monitoring butterflies next summer, please reach out to Anna Walker (anna@bioparksociety.org) or go to https://www.thebutterflynetwork.org/program/new-mexico-butterfly-monitoring-network. We hope to continue setting up routes across the state, in as many habitat types as possible. Volunteers are asked to commit to attending a butterfly identification and protocol training and running at least 8 surveys on a set route between March and October.

Figure 3. Map of NMBMN survey routes in 2021 .

Anna, thanks for that report and all you do! For the rest of you readers, NMBMN is off to a great start, but we New Mexicans can do more. If you are not already monitoring a transect, I challenge you to undertake one. Let’s use 2022 to double the number of butterfly transects that are monitored in New Mexico. There are a lot of you, so we can meet that goal. If your part of the state is not represented, why not remedy that? Contact Anna Walker and get started: anna@bioparksociety.org.


Announcements:

First, the Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti) has fallen on very hard times, to the extent that the US Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing to list it under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Service invites the public to review the proposed rule and provide any comments by the end of the public comment period, which is March 28, 2022. You can access the rule and submit comments using the blue “Comment” button at https://www.regulations.gov/document/FWS-R2-ES-2021-0069-0001. If you have relevant information the Service should consider, please share it with them. They make it very easy to comment.

Second, Sugarite Canyon State Park will have its annual Bodacious Butterfly Festival during June 18-19, 2022. There will be guided butterfly walks Saturday and Sunday. My walks will be Saturday. We always see butterflies and have fun at New Mexico’s flagship state park, which is famous for its excellent natural history and cultural history. Please join us! Reserve a campsite at the park, stay in Raton, or come for the day. Put it on your calendar. We look forward to seeing you there.

Last but not least, I have the great pleasure of welcoming Mike Toliver to the Butterflies of New Mexico team. Mike is the person who will help to get BofNM to the next level. By way of introduction, Mike asked to say a few words:

“Howdy! I’m Mike Toliver, born and bred in New Mexico and transplanted to Illinois. I developed an interest in butterflies when I was very young. I was riding my bike in my neighborhood in Albuquerque in 1956 when I spotted a puddle club of Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtails. I hopped off my bike and caught one with my fingers and rushed home to show my mom. I still have that specimen. Mom sewed me a net from a pillowcase and I made a killing jar with chopped up rubber bands and carbon tetrachloride and off I went.

My great aunt Nellie worked for the printing company that was producing “Colorado Butterflies” by Brown, Eff and Rotger. When she learned of my interest, she would send me separates of the book as they were being prepared, which further sparked my interest.

In 1963, I joined the Lepidopterists’ Society (a great organization for us butterfliers – consider joining!). In even-numbered years, they publish a list of members. So, in 1964 my name appeared along with perhaps 3 other New Mexicans (mostly moth people, though I believe Bruce Harris was a member then as well – based in Silver City). That led to Dick Holland contacting me as he was moving to Albuquerque to take a job at Sandia Labs. Dick and I roamed the state for years.

Being in the membership list also led to contacts with butterfliers who were passing through. Two folks in particular joined Dick and me in the spring of 1965 – Kilian Roever and John Emmel. Kilian is a giant among Arizona Lepidopterists, and John and his brother Tom were major forces in butterflying nation-wide. I began corresponding with other Lepidopterists as well, including F. M. Brown (“Brownie”) and Don Eff – two of the co-authors of Colorado Butterflies. My family went up to Colorado Springs to stay with aunt Nellie so I could meet Brownie. That led to him becoming one of my major mentors, including hiring me to investigate Lepidoptera at Capulin Mountain National Monument, where he had recently discovered the Capulin Mountain Arctic (Oeneis alberta capulinensis).

I was at best a mediocre student in high school, though I’d placed 3rd in the state science fair in 1964 with my butterflies. My parents wanted me to go to college, but I was sick of school, so in 1967 I joined the U. S. Marine Corps. I went to boot camp in January, 1968, and by June I was in Viet Nam. My battalion operated mostly south of Da Nang in rice paddy country. My fellow Marines learned of my interest in butterflies and soon would show up in the platoon office with a helmet full of butterflies and dump them on the Lieutenant’s desk, saying “these are for Toli”. Most of those butterflies now reside in the British Museum of Natural History. Suffice it to say I saw a lot of spectacular critters there, but I won’t be going back any time soon. My first professional paper on a courtship between two different species of Giant Skippers was published while I was in ‘Nam.

When I got out of the Marines, I returned to New Mexico and attended the University of New Mexico. Two of my mentors there were Clifford Crawford and Dan Jennings. Dr. Crawford taught biology at UNM and a kinder man would be difficult to find. He recommended me for a job at the U. S. Forest Service insect research lab, run by Dan. Despite my disheveled appearance (it was the early ‘70s – long hair, dungarees, etc.), Dan hired me and nurtured me through my development as a “professional”. We co-authored several papers.

I moved to Illinois to pursue graduate studies in entomology at the University of Illinois, always intending to return to my beloved New Mexico and fulfill my dream of producing the New Mexico equivalent of Colorado Butterflies. Fate intervened and I found myself teaching virtually every kind of biology at a small liberal arts college in Eureka, Illinois, with the love of my life – Peg – who I met at the U. of I. Eureka is the alma mater of President Ronald Reagan, so I got to meet a lot of important figures. I helped hood Mikhail Gorbachev when we gave him an honorary degree. I heard Wendell Berry read some of his work when he received an honorary degree from us. I heard Luci Tapahonso read her poetry (it reduced me to tears hearing her read about Tsoodził [Mt. Taylor, where I had spent many happy days collecting butterflies with Dick, and which helped me recover from my time in the Marine Corps]). I invited Will Provine, a giant in evolutionary biology, to speak at the College.

I had a great career there, but I always longed to revisit butterflies of New Mexico. In my retirement, I thought I might pursue that goal now that I had the time to do so. Searching the internet, I found Steve’s Butterflies of New Mexico site and was blown away at how good it was! Of course, I’d known Steve for many years and we had gone out butterflying together a few times, but my duties at the college pretty much ate up all my time so I’d lost touch with him, except for the occasional meeting at a Lepidopterists’ Society annual meeting. “Hmm – maybe there’s no need for a Butterflies of New Mexico – Steve has already done it.” But the thought still nagged at me and so I “bugged” Steve about a Butterflies of New Mexico book. He has generously allowed me to horn in on his amazing project, and it is my hope (and his) that this collaboration will produce a work that will resonate with all you butterflying folks out there.”

Thanks, Mike, for laying it all on the table. I find it curious that, in 1980 when I transplanted from Wisconsin to New Mexico carrying a dream of studying New Mexico butterflies, almost simultaneously you moved the other way, from New Mexico to illinois, carrying that same dream. “Butterflies of New Mexico” is now our joint dream.

Mike and I have already begun experimenting with some new features and upgrades to Butterflies of New Mexico, starting with the Swallowtails. That section will be “under construction” for the immediate future, but still available for your perusal, reference and perusal. If you’re interested, please check it out, see what we are doing, and give us feedback as we go along. We hope to include distribution maps for the butterflies and maybe for their host plants, too. We may include write-ups for species that have not yet been seen in New Mexico, but probably will someday. And we intend to add more photos of immature stages. IN THAT REGARD, do you have a photo of a Pipevine Swallowtail larva, dark morph, from New Mexico? if so, we’d love to add it to the page for that species, with credit, of course. For the time being, we plugged in one of Mike’s from Florida, but let’s get a New Mexico version if we can. We also will need larval images for Anise Swallowtail.


Dear Readers, thanks for sharing your eyeballs. Be safe out there. See you next month!

8 thoughts on “New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network Update”

  1. Comment on “Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti) has fallen on very hard times, to the extent that the US Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing to list it under the federal Endangered Species Act.”
    Its host plant is New Mexico Penstemon, also known as New Mexico Beardtongue. Here is a link from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with a picture: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=PENE6
    I mention this in case any of the New Mexico readers are considering planting a pollinator garden, don’t forget the New Mexico Penstemon. I will be looking for some seed to plant in my pollinator patch.

  2. Wow, this site just keeps getting better and better….Neat info about the monitoring going on in the state, and the last post about summarizing the year’s butterfly activity was very insightful. I just checked out the revised “Swallowtails” section underway…very nice to have the map for folks like me who can’t remember which county is where. It also helps to show the general area where a butterfly is/has been found. Thanks for all your work!

  3. Hi Steve and Mike, here’s wishing your Butterflies of New Mexico collaboration great success! Mike, I had a couple of entomology courses under Dr. Cliff Crawford during the 70s at UNM and agree whole-heartedly with your experience! His kindness, knowledge, and dedication to entomology, along with that of Dr. Bill Martin in botany, bolstered my desire to make a career in biology.

    My best to you both, Jim Von Loh

    1. Thanks! We must have just missed each other. I graduated from UNM in 1973. Most of the biology faculty I encountered in my years there were excellent. When I got to the University of Illinois and had to take an assessment exam to see what my deficiencies were, I stacked up very well against my fellow entering grad students from all over the country, thanks to the education I got at UNM.

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