Butterflies, among the most familiar and showy of insects, are silent messengers of environmental health. They can speak volumes about the state of the environment under forces of changing land-use practices and other human-induced and natural pressures. In the last 200 years, Vermont and other areas in the Northeast have undergone both extensive and intensive landscape changes that have undoubtedly affected butterfly populations. Since 1950, for example, we have witnessed a 60 percent decline of hay fields, pasture lands and other grasslands in the Northeast due to loss and consolidation of farming and sprawl development. Unfortunately, we have few historic data with which to understand or evaluate changes that may have followed in butterfly populations.
From 2002 - 2007 volunteers of all kinds searched fields and fens, mountains and meadows, even their own backyards, to document the status of Vermont butterflies. Despite their lofty status among the insects, butterflies were largely a mystery in Vermont. There was no atlas of their distribution, no scientific assessment of the threats they face, and no conservation concept for butterfly species on a statewide scale.
The most recent checklist of Vermont Lepidoptera listed 89 butterfly species in 1995. With the help from over 180 people, VBS amassed over 36,000 butterfly records from across the state representing 103 butterfly species. This work enabled biologists to determine that 34 butterfly species (33%) are of conservation concern in Vermont and gave us information on where we might begin important conservation work.
From students to landowners, butterfly enthusiasts to conservation biologists, the Vermont Butterfly Survey provides essential information about the butterflies of Vermont to help us both enjoy and conserve our natural heritage now and for future generations.
Download and view the report (PDF 12 MB):
McFarland, K.P. and S. Zahendra. 2010. The Vermont Butterfly Survey, 2002 - 2007: A Final Report to the Natural Heritage Information Project of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. 298 pp.