British Columbia

Citizen scientists fan out to identify, photograph local butterflies

Approximately 200 volunteer "butterflyway rangers" will be deploying to backyards and parks to document and photograph B.C. butterflies.

200 'butterflyway rangers' will be heading out to parks and backyards in search of the important pollinators

Canadian tiger swallowtails are some of the more colourful butterflies found in B.C. (Bill Dean)

A growing army of 200 citizen scientists will deploy across the Lower Mainland starting Monday, hoping to find and document local butterflies.

The effort is part of National Pollinators Week and sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation. It's part of the BIMBY program — short for butterflies in my backyard.

According to project lead Winnie Hwo, volunteers were already busy in April, planting butterfly-friendly native plants to build a network or "butterflyway" that also supports birds and bees. 

Starting Monday, they will begin photographing and identifying which varieties of the colourful insect show up where.

"We are seeing the iconic butterflies in B.C. like the painted lady and western tiger swallowtail," said Hwo. "Right now because of weather... the plants are coming out and the [butterfly] pollinators are coming out, too."

Citizen scientist are already uploading photographs of butterflies to the free app iNaturalist which identifies the species and plots the locations.

Lead butterflyway ranger Stephen Deedes-Vincke says data collected since the inception of the program in 2017 is helping paint a baseline picture of the health of B.C.'s butterfly populations in the face of climate change and other factors like pesticide use and urban development.

A painted lady butterfly. (Susie Armishaw)

"It allows us to see if the butterflies are increasing or decreasing," said Deedes-Vincke. "The more data we can get, the more people are aware. Butterflies are really good indicators, they're like the canary in coal mine." 

Butterflies aren't endangered in B.C. but anecdotally their numbers seem to be decreasing.

"Our parents used to drive around and you'd have to get out to wipe out the windshield because it got smeared with bugs and butterflies," said Deedes-Vincke. "These days, you don't see many, at least not as many as I remember seeing as a child."

Like other flying insects, butterflies do the important work of pollinating plants, although they don't get the same credit as bees.

"We cannot live without pollinators, we know this because they help make food for us," said Hwo.

The David Suzuki Foundation also plans to release an Indigenous pollinator plant map later this week to show some of the better places to view butterflies.


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