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WV Wildlife: Butterflies

Butterflies have a short lifespan; their main goals are to eat and reproduce.(WCHS/WVAH)

Susan Olcott is passionate about butterflies.

So much so that the biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has been traveling all across the state--over the past 5 years--to see how many are here, and to see how they are doing. These insects are pretty fascinating!

"Butterfly is an insect--6 legs, 2 wings and two antennas, the whole thing. Caterpillars grow into butterflies. They have a complete metamorphosis, or transformation--as they become an adult", said Olcott.

At the Morgantown Botanic Garden, that very unique change occurs often. That's good, but knowing how these interesting and beautiful insects are doing statewide is her, and the DNR's, main goal. The information collected over the last several years will be used to update a butterfly atlas for the state. Several things are already known about them--but like any other scientific endeavor, the need for more knowledge and understanding never stops.

"In West Virginia, we have about 138 species of butterflies. We've gotten range expansions for some, which is really good--we thought they were just in one little spot, and it turns out they're covering a wider area in the state, which is nice", said Olcutt.

The butterflies objectives are pretty straightforward.

"The role for the caterpillar is to eat. Remember the kids book, the hungry caterpillar?--that's very true. And then for the adult, their primary purpose is to reproduce", said Olcutt.

Despite this simplicity in regards to their needs, they are vulnerable to environmental changes--and also play an important role in the ecosystem. Olcott explains.

"I would say probably every bird eats caterpillars. Some birds almost eat caterpillars exclusively".

It can be a tough world out there, but this 'circle of life' keeps our wildlife going strong year after year.

Thankfully, there are plenty--and a nice variety, too--of butterflies left that we can enjoy watching here in the Mountain State.

"The best time to look for butterflies is usually upper 70s--nice and sunny is a really good time to see them. It's our mission to try and preserve our natural communities and species here in the state", said Olcott.

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