BAMONA – Citizen Science Project

Now that there seems to be more activity in butterfly sightings I will be continuing to post sightings on the website even after close of this semester. in fact, I will be attempting to post additional sightings during my vacation out-of-state. I am confident that more sightings and posts will take place prior to cooler upper Midwest weather sets in around October 15th which should allow for more contacts.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

The recent stretch of dry weather has certainly brought out the frequency and abundance of butterflies. Yesterday on a walk we spotted multiple Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus). This is a very distinctive butterfly, think ‘bright yellow monarch’ it flutters in a similar fashion to the monarch and is the same relative size. Because of its yellow color it is easy to spot either flying or when it alights upon a flowering plant. I have noticed with the polarity of cone flower in our neighborhood it has really brought an abundance of other smaller species also.

Additionally, I believe I spotted a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) but it was at a distance. It does however, prefer to feed on milkweed and clover both of which grow near our neighborhood. the milkweed grows in and around a water retention pond and the clover grows in an undeveloped lot on the edge of our housing development and near a cornfield. Unfortunately, as I wrote in yesterday’s post regarding habitat loss this field was recently mowed and the clover was reduced to stubble for now.

Issues Facing Butterfly Habitat

Pollinators and Biological Control Agents

Butterflies and some moths serve two very important purposes, they provide pollination ‘services’ for flowering plants of many species as well as serving as a control agent of harmful pests.  As a pollinator of plants they are instrumental in the propagation of a wide variety of plants including fruits, vegetable and many common and exotic flowers.  Rural farmers as well as urban gardeners rely on butterflies.  “Since butterflies are regarded as generalist flower visitors the number of plant species available to them could be a function of their proboscis length” (Bauder, 2015).  Butterflies pollinate similar to bees in that the pollen sticks to their legs when collecting nectar from the plants but they are different and utilize their specific collect or proboscis from specific plant species.  “These easily accessible flowers are continuously exploited by a great variety of butterfly species possessing rather short proboscis, whereas the long-proboscid skippers are crowded out to deep-tubed flowers, where they can benefit from a more exclusive access to nectar” (Bauder, 2015). So, even though bees are more well-known as pollinators the Lepidoptera have a specific function and serve a specific and useful pollinating purpose.

As a control agent butterflies and their larval a pupae stages are very important as a biological control agent and are used in many regions globally as a natural control to invasive species that harm endemic plants. “Several species of Lepidoptera have been extensively used in the biological control of invasive plants” (Morais, 2011).  Using Lepidoptera is not the only type of insect to serve this purpose, but they are a very important contributor because of their ability to survive and spread into other regions.  “Establishment and spread are two distinct issues in biological control programs of weeds” (Morais, 2011).  Because Lepidoptera have these two characteristics they make excellent productive and economical use as a biological alternative to chemical pesticide.  It is especially the speed in dispersal that may make all the difference between success and failure as a management tool.  “Among the main arthropod groups used in biological control programs of weeds (Acarina, Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera and Thysanoptera), Lepidoptera were the fastest dispersers” (Morais, 2011).

Threats to habitat – natural and human

While moths and butterflies appear to survive in both rural and urban ecosystems they are still threatened in both areas.  Like many of the areas other animal and plant species suffer throughout the world today butterflies suffer the same fate – habitat fragmentation.  Of course, there are pockets of habitats that support butterfly propagation.  But even these pockets can be easily threatened.  “For example, agricultural cultivation, mowing, weeding, trampling and grazing during egg and larval stages.  The host plant is destroyed and then larvae are killed, especially in the second and third generation when farmers’ agricultural activities are more intense” (Li, 2016).  It is important to protect these habitat areas in all stages of the butterflies’ life-cycle.  The upside of this is that many of the habitats that the butterfly and moths prefer is marginal territory left unused by farmers in agriculture or human development.  “Their preferred habitat occurs along field margins, paths and irrigation ditches” (Li, 2016).  In fact, these are edge habitat’s that provide shelter and open areas in which to collect pollen.  The important issue is that these areas are left undisturbed for the most part.  , “A key factor of the first and second generation are natural enemies, which cause mortality up to 86% for eggs and 64% for larvae.  But in the third generation human activities have been identified as the key factor, which causes mortality of up to 42% for eggs and 75% for larvae” (Li, 2016). 


Like many issues facing all ecosystems world-wide butterfly habitat is also threatened.  Human initiated development is a contributing factor as is intensive and extensive farming as well as the ubiquitous use of herbicides and pesticides.  Additionally, simply mowing a vacant field populated by clover and other cover crops can be butterfly and moth habitat.  This in fact happened recently which was a neighborhood ‘hotspot’ for butterfly sightings that I used during my Citizen Science project.  Understanding our actions as a community before using historical methods to shrink habitat for butterflies, moths and other Anthropods would make a huge difference with minimal effect to human productivity.


Bauder, J., Warren, A., Krenn, H., “The ecological role of extremely long-proboscid Neotropical butterflies (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae) in plant-pollinator networks”, Anthropod – Plant Interactions, June 2, 2015

Li, X., Luo, Y., et. al., “On the Ecology and Conservation of Sericinus montelus (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae) – Its threats in Xiaolongshan Forests Area (China), PLOS ONE, March 22, 2016.

Morais, E., Picanco, M.,, “Lepidopterans as potential agents for the biological control of the invasive plant, Miconia calvescens”, Journal of Insect Science, October 24, 2011.

Two additional sightings

I was able to capture two additional butterflies one a cream/white variegated and a yellow of similar sizes. I was unable to identify the species but will submit to the BAMONA website. It was a successful weekend with much more activity than expected it was incredibly warm both Saturday and Sunday with heat indices reaching 102 and 105 respectively. The increased heat created led to increased activity and the threat of rain also increased all insect activity at dusk. Still awaiting confirmation “approval” of earlier submissions but expect those any day now.

Expecting cooler temperatures this week which may hinder activity but it remains dry which will certainly benefit collection.

History of the BAMONA Website

The Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) project is an ambitious effort to collect and provide access to quality-controlled data about butterflies and moths for the continent of North America from Panama to Canada.  The project is hosted by the Butterfly and Moth information Network and is directed by Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. As the website states, “Our goal is to fill the needs of scientists and nature observers by bringing verified occurrence and life history data into one accessible location”.  By all measures I feel the website accomplishes this mission. 

When researching a project to work on this summer I felt the immediate feedback provided by BAMONA was a key feature in attracting me to the project.  Information and sightings have been pouring in since the mid-June which is a great motivator to add to the collection.  Also, the ease in which I am able to contribute also makes it enjoyable to be part of the project.  “Citizen scientists of all ages and experience levels participate by taking photographs of butterflies and moths and then submitting their observations”. The fact that many of us have phones with cameras makes this a very easy project to get started with including a no stress hike through a meadow or grassy area with blooming foliage. 

Additional information available on the website describes the need for this project. 

While museum collections, personal collections, published literature and paper field guides contain valuable data, these sources:

  • Are scattered
  • Can be out-of-date
  • Contain varying levels of detail
  • Can require considerable effort to access
  • Are often only known to a limited circle of lepidopterists

Footnote:  The BAMONA project is based upon work previously supported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (1995-2003) and The USGS National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) Program (2004-2011).

More information about why collecting this data is so important will be available in future blogs.

Observational note from last night:

I saw a small butterfly this evening in a small field on my way home from work last night the specimen was perhaps 3cm long with a wingspan of about 5cm.  The field was low brush and clover mixed with wild grasses.  There are many such small patches of this type adjacent to the park where I live.  This butterfly species flies close to the ground, with a very erratic flight, appearing to collect and transfer pollen from the clover flowers. I will attempt to capture a photo of this specimen this weekend.

Using the Website

A couple of observations regarding the use of the website, I have noticed it takes quite a few days – weeks to “approve” a sighting once posted.  I currently have six postings of various moths awaiting identification/confirmation.  As part of my graduate coursework we have studied the fact that more taxonomists are needed in all specialties to identify many of the unidentified species and I fear the website is inundated with sightings that need to be verified by an expert lepidopterist.  This is not a huge issue, as I post what I can and simply look for another opportunity. 

I find once on the website it is very informative, user friendly and fun to navigate. It is interesting to “zoom in” on other states and see what they are posting. Also, pictures of rare, popular or beautiful specimens are displayed for viewing simply by accessing the website.  This is a really cool feature and very helpful to assist in what to look for.  There is no formal training required which makes it ideal for youngsters to simply get out and “stir up” some candidates for photos.  A simple net is very helpful as both butterflies and moths fly in a very erratic path with very little gliding, and are subject to the vagaries of even the lightest breeze.  But of course, that is part of the fun.  Give it a try, here is the website again:

Public Participation

During the past four weeks I have been observing and “attempting” to gather butterflies and moths for the Citizen Project. While out and about, I feel I pay more attention to the environment available for butterflies in the area.  Of course, home owners like to plant flowers and shrubs and certainly like the occasional butterfly to flutter past their deck or patio – moths…maybe not so much! 

I wonder if many neighborhoods actively plant shrubs and flowering plants to attract butterflies.  Also, many neighborhoods, mine included, use a mosquito fogging vehicle which whisks through the neighborhood on windless evenings a couple of times each summer shortly after dark.  It may be argued the efficacy of this process but wouldn’t it harm the butterflies and moths?  Besides the rudimentary process of “photo-collecting” the butterflies and moths take a moment to observe the habitat that would attract the butterflies.  Maybe this is another lesson to be learned, where is the habitat for butterflies and how can I help? 

Moth Sighting

One of the major threats that affect the Lepidoptera Order is the over use of pesticides especially in the agricultural industry so prevalent here in Iowa.  This is not the forum to discuss the use of those pesticides but rather the effects that they may have on pollinator species.  Of course, may people understand that bees are great and efficient pollinators but many butterflies and moths also assist in pollinating flowers and crops including backyard gardens.  I have included a photo of a moth that I submitted to the BAMONA website the other day, registered #1260941.  This is my third such submission and first moth, so it is very rewarding to see my direct contribution to the project first-hand.

While I have some background in insect identification this is not something that should stop anyone from participating. Submissions can be gathered and contributed with as much information as possible and expert taxonomists confirm or assist with identification.  They website is fairly straight-forward to use including gathering date, time of day, temperature and any other information the contributor deems appropriate. Plus, you get the added benefit of being outside! 

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Citizen Project Introduction

I will be photographing butterflies, moths and caterpillars (as you have seen in earlier posts) in order to post on the website  This is a governmental citizen project (formerly operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)) to assist in sighting of the Order of Lepidoptera which includes Butterflies and Moths.  “The BAMONA project aims to serve as a one-stop database of butterfly and moth data that scientists can use to form or to address research questions”.  More information is available at their website:

Since my participation of this citizen project began in mid-summer we are further along in the life cycle which normally contains: Egg, Larva, Pupa and Adult stages.  Most everyone is familiar with the Adult stage which is the winged butterfly or moth.  But most people know of the caterpillar stage of fame and fable.

I was interested in this citizen project because of its current lack of participation in my home state of Iowa and felt I could make a contribution albeit minimal to the database map. I have submitted three (3) cases thus far and hope to add additional species over the coming weeks.