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posted: 8/29/2013 9:37 PM

Notebaert Nature Museum releases endangered butterflies

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  • Video: Butterfly release in Elgin

  • Doug Taron, curator of biology, and Karen Kramer Wilson, living invertebrate specialist, both of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, release their special insects Thursday into the Bluff City Fen in Elgin. The swamp metalmark butterflies were bred at the nature museum in Chicago.

      Doug Taron, curator of biology, and Karen Kramer Wilson, living invertebrate specialist, both of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, release their special insects Thursday into the Bluff City Fen in Elgin. The swamp metalmark butterflies were bred at the nature museum in Chicago.
    photos by Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Karen Kramer Wilson, living invertebrate specialist at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, carries swamp metalmark butterflies to their new home Thursday at the Bluff City Fen in Elgin.

      Karen Kramer Wilson, living invertebrate specialist at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, carries swamp metalmark butterflies to their new home Thursday at the Bluff City Fen in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The swamp metalmark butterflies are known for their reddish-brown wings that are lightly checkered. Here one is seen through clear plastic as it clings to the top of the container prior to the release Thursday.

      The swamp metalmark butterflies are known for their reddish-brown wings that are lightly checkered. Here one is seen through clear plastic as it clings to the top of the container prior to the release Thursday.

 
 

Moving is almost always a stressful endeavor. When you couple that with letting go of something very dear to you it becomes even more difficult.

A team of biologists from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago experienced that Thursday when they released about 18 swamp metalmark butterflies at the Bluff City Fen in Elgin.

"I am a little nervous," says Doug Taron, curator of biology at the nature museum. Taron and his team worked for months in preparation for the release.

"It's almost as if we just sent them off to college, except things can eat them here," he said of the butterflies.

Taron collected four of the female insects from southern Indiana in June. The insects produced about 80 eggs each. The team has been nurturing the butterflies through their stages ahead of the release.

The fen, on the city's southeast side, is a special type of wetland that is fed by springs coming through the ground that bring mineral-rich water. The diversity of wildflowers makes fens a magnet for many butterflies such as the metalmark.

The Elgin nature preserve is about 150 acres, 40 of which are devoted to the fen.

The endangered butterfly, which used to inhabit Illinois, has not been seen in the area for more than 70 years.

Habitat destruction combined with the metalmarks' diet helps to explain why the butterfly has all but disappeared. The tiny red butterfly can only feed on the leaves of swamp thistle and tall thistle, which both grow exclusively in fens. Taron has worked for more than two decades with Friends of the Fen, a volunteer organization, to prepare Bluff Spring Fen for the reintroduction of the metalmark.

Karen Kramer Wilson, living invertebrate specialist at the nature museum, warned the butterflies after they were released.

"Run, kids, run," she said, referring to the butterflies' natural predators such as spiders, wasps, birds and dragonflies.

The team plans to return to the fen to check on the insects and release almost 80 more butterflies in the future.

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