Field guides and amateur lepidopterists were on the lookout for butterflies Saturday morning, but the first catch of the day was a 3-foot garter snake.
Jeff Seim at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center grabbed the snake when it came within a few feet of the building; it responded with typical snake defense mechanisms, pooping and secreting musk until it was released.
There are three varieties of garter snakes native to the Cheyenne Bottom area, Seim said. This one was a common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), often called a red-sided garter snake. The snakes have enjoyed the abundance of frogs this year, due to the wet spring and summer.
Once the snake sped away, visitors turned to the quest of the day: The North American Butterfly Association’s 41st annual butterfly count.
Pam Martin, a KWEC educator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said the increase in rainfall after several years of drought might also affect this year’s butterfly count.
“We’ve seen some unusual species this year,” Martin said. She recently saw a tiger swallowtail for the first time in the 24 years she’s lived in central Kansas. She’s also seen a bordered patch. “We’re just on the edge of their range — actually out of their range,” she said.
Six lepidopterists – that is, persons interested in butterflies and moths – participated in this year’s count: Karol Erikson, Carol Schremmer, Brenna Martin, Matt and Jean Aycock, and Pam Martin. They searched Cheyenne Bottoms, Bicentennial Park in Hoisington and the butterfly garden at the KWEC.
“We’ll hit the alfalfa field first,” Martin told the others, as they gathered nets, binoculars and checklists.
In the afternoon, Martin reported on their success.
“We found 27 species, beating our record of 26 species in 2013,” she said. (The 2014 butterfly count was canceled.) That included five new species for the count: Queen, Melissa Blue, Spicebush Swallowtail, Goatweed Leafwing and Gulf Fritillary.
“What was very exciting, in addition to the new species, was finding 18 monarch butterflies,” she said. “In past years we haven’t found many at all, so hopefully this will be a good year for them. And there were thousands of orange and clouded sulphur butterflies.”