One of North America’s rarest and least known butterflies, the White Mountain Fritillary (Boloria montinus) makes it living exclusively at or above treeline on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Isolated from its holarctic cousins for at least the past several thousand years, this 'endemic' butterfly’s extremely narrow range and unknown population size led to its 2008 listing as a state-endangered species. It is also a prime candidate for conservation monitoring, which is where VCE enters the picture. VCE biologists Brendan Collins and Spencer Hardy made weekly trips throughout July and August to Mt. Washington's famed alpine meadows and stunted krummholz forests, with the goal of elucidating this subspecies’ ecology and life history. The duo logged many rugged miles (and took in countless breathtaking views) to survey fritillaries and their habitat at more than 100 point count locations, which were concentrated around moist alpine snowbank communities. They devoted special attention to documenting possible host plants, the discovery of which proved to be even more elusive than the butterflies themselves.
The first flight of adult White Mountain Fritillaries began during the second week of July, and numbers peaked on 10 August, when Brendan and Spencer detected individuals at 24 of 26 survey points. VCE's hard-won data promise to yield more accurate population estimates and a refined understanding of how this rare alpine specialist is distributed within its tiny White Mountain range. We'll be back at it in 2013, when we will confirm the fritillary's host plants(s)!
VCE discovered several other butterfly species in Mt. Washington's alpine zone this summer, including a number of “hill topping” species. Our list included Pink-edged Sulphur, Painted and American Ladies, Monarch, Gray Commas, Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral, and Milbert's Tortoiseshell, among others.
Photo courtesy of K.P. McFarland