WINGED SHENANIGANS: ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF BUTTERFLIES

WINGED SHENANIGANS: ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF BUTTERFLIES

Hi, my name is Saani Borge, and I am interning at San Juan Island National Historical Park this summer.  I am a California native, but I studied Evolutionary and Ecological Biology at Barnard College Columbia University in New York City. As part of Columbia’s neuroscience and psychology departments, I conducted research studies on rhesus macaques, numbats, squirrel monkeys, and other college students. After a short stint in medical biotechnology post-graduation, I realized my passions lie in wildlife and natural resource management. 

 

Having arrived on San Juan Island a few weeks ago, I must say that I am completely enamored with this place. This summer, I am working on the Island Marble Butterfly project. The Island Marble butterfly (Euchloe ausonides insulanus) is native to the San Juan Islands in Washington State, USA. Although it was initially discovered in the late 1800s, it disappeared for nearly a century until its rediscovery in 1998 within the San Juan Island National Historical Park. Subsequent surveys identified other populations in the prairie grasslands of San Juan and Lopez islands. Sadly, these other populations have dwindled due to habitat loss, and the only remaining population is the one originally found at American Camp within the park. To support the population, the park has been rearing butterflies in captivity since 2013. In the spring of 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife designated it as an endangered species.


In my role, I assist with adult butterfly releases, monitor known butterfly habitats in the park, and take care of the collected eggs and larvae. Additionally, I contribute to social media posts for the project. The other day, I had the opportunity to meet researchers from Olympic National Park who were conducting intertidal monitoring. They have test plots scattered across the island, which they sample bi-annually, a practice they have followed for over twenty years. During the sampling process, they study invertebrate and macroalgal communities, monitor target species, and deploy temperature dataloggers to assess year-round ocean and air temperatures. I was able to see the most enormous starfish I’ve ever come across.


Personally, I find butterfly monitoring more appealing than intertidal research, as the latter often involves getting covered in mud and enduring unpleasant odors. Monitoring butterflies feels akin to playing a Pokémon game, wandering through fields in search of precious species. Moreover, I have been entrusted with deciphering a sophisticated digital camera that was lying around in the park headquarters. I intend to include the photos I capture in my posts, but if they turn out poorly, it’s certainly due to the camera’s confusing mechanisms. Overall, I am thrilled to be part of the Island Marble Butterfly project team and look forward to contributing to its conservation and research efforts throughout the summer.

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