of the Appalachian Heartland Forests and Prairies
2013 Dates to be Announced - Registration Opening Soon
"It makes a difference if, watching a moth drawn to the light on some warm summer evening, the viewer imagines 'there goes the soul of the dead,' or 'the nuisance that ruined my only wool coat,' or 'a species of Lepidoptera.' How we understand those flapping wings triggers the flight of our thoughts, whose trajectory makes up who we are." ~Kim Todd, from Chrysalis
What will you learn from this course?
- Recognition by sight and flight pattern of 25-30 species of butterflies most common to America's Appalachian heartland.
- Recognition of 3-5 species of the most common skippers; understanding the wide variety of niches held by skippers in the eastern United States and an introduction to move more deeply into skipper recognition.
- The annual rhythm of butterfly species' appearance throughout the spring and summer season -- "when" to see "what" species throughout the year.
- Quickly discern in the field the general taxonomic grouping to which any single butterfly sighting belongs.
- The importance of butterfly species' annual summer migrations and range expansion northward across the eastern United States.
- The ecology and identification of caterpillar host plants and their associated ecosystems.
- The significance of butterflies in the entire world, their magnificent diversity, evolution and world distribution.
- Recognition by sight many species of butterflies in their larval form, techniques of finding the elusive caterpillars in the wild, understanding caterpillars' impressive diversity of predator avoidance and defense.
- Many dramatic and educational interpretive stories about butterfly and caterpillar inter-species relationships.
- Conservation challenges for butterfly species in eastern America; the impact of relatively recent non-native invasive plants.
Who is this trip designed for?
Teachers, nature enthusiasts, naturalists, outdoor educators, biologists, adventurers, home school parents, and students of biodiversity. No previous experience necessary except an undying curiosity about the natural world. This is an excellent opportunity for deep, holistic, field-oriented cross-discplinary education.
Butterflies are often referred to as the “charismatic megafauna” of the insect world. They handsomely present us with marvels employed by many other groups of insects such as metamorphosis, cryptic camouflage, color/pattern mimicry, chemical warfare and seduction, specialized gender roles, inter-species relationships, and victim and victor stories that would rival anything on the New York Times’ best seller list. Their large size, stunning beauty, and our affinity to turning butterflies into metaphors, make them the perfect gateway to a deeper understanding of the larger insect world.
Day-flying butterflies and night-flying moths collectively compose the class known as Lepidoptera, the second largest group of organisms in the entire world. At an estimated 18,000 species, only the beetles surpass Lepidoptera in overall species diversity. This course includes in its curriculum field recognition of the most common generalist butterfly species of the Appalachian heartland, and familiarization with their natural histories. In many courses, learning the name is the end of learning. In this course it is just the beginning. Each name becomes the potential chapter heading of a life-long personal relationship, a title under which your mind can organize and remember a wealth of personal memories and observations in the years ahead.
It is relatively easy to learn to identify a butterfly from a photo or by looking at a specimen pinned in a box; but in this course, participants will learn to identify butterflies on the wing. Being creatures of nearly perpetual motion, by necessity field identification of butterflies is a slowly-acquired art form, an ability which will be patiently coaxed, mentored and reinforced in each participant throughout the course. Your gained skills will not be transient, but will be reinforced so as to become an enduring life-long skill.
We have chosen August for this event because it is the season in which the larger and more showy butterfly species are the most numerous and visible. Butterfly populations vary dramatically from year to year, but regardless of whether the course lands on a boom year or a bust, butterflies will be dependably present and will serve ably as our teachers. We wish to make note to students that August is too late in the year to find living representatives of the single-brood butterfly species which emerge in spring and early summer, often in relatively small numbers. Species that are by necessity in absentia will be included in this course through story-sharing and field introduction of their host plants and associates.
Throughout this course butterflies will be studied in the holistic content of the larger landscape in which they live. We will be working primarily with binoculars as opposed to nets and pins, and with common names rather than Latin. Daytime hours will be spent out-of-doors except in exceptionally inclement weather (an unlikely and actually a welcome event in our usually dry August), and you will be pleased to know that Powerpoint programs are banned between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm so that we have no excuse to stay inside. We will be exploring several summer temperate ecosystems in the course including wetlands, meadows, natural prairies and hardwood forests.
In our holistic approach to the ecosystems, all nature discoveries fall within our permitted focus, whether they be butterflies, bugs or birds. In tribute to the season, this course will include a rudimentary introduction to the auditory music of late summer – the katydids, cicadas and grasshoppers which will all be actively singing. We will also spend at least one night celebrating the richness of the night-flying moths, and seeking out the elusive larvae of butterflies in their juvenile caterpillar phases – caterpillars whose very lives depend on not being discovered by animals with even sharper senses than ours.
Insects provide one of the most important cornerstones for life on our planet. If we study any healthy well-functioning ecosystem, we discover a rich and diverse tapestry of insects supporting it. Kick out that cornerstone, and the entire ecosystem and collapses. As teachers, researchers, and nature enthusiasts, insects deserve much more of our attention than we usually give them. In this course we shall take an in-depth study of butterflies -- not by hovering over museum specimens in mothballs, nor by reading books -- but by joining them in the same place in which they live out their short, complex and dramatic lives, that is, out-of-doors, in their native ecosystems.
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