Rescuing Rare Butterflies

Erica Henry, Elsita Kiekebusch
NC State University
Open Minds Teen Science Cafe - Raleigh


Written by Teen Leaders Bella Fry, Nora White, Claire Liang, and Divya Iyer.


Speakers, Erika and Elsita.

October’s Teen Science Café was about rescuing an extremely rare species of butterfly called the St. Francis Satyr, a species found only in Ft. Bragg, NC. One of the greatest threats to it and other rare butterflies is loss of habitat and degradation. Because of the destruction of marshland in this area, the St. Francis Satyr can only thrive in a very specific environment. The specific environment needed can be found within the protected borders of this U.S. Army base. Our speakers, Erika and Elsita, are PhD students studying the conservation and populations of these butterflies.

Throughout their presentation, we learned about the various ongoing efforts to restore high quality butterfly habitats, and how it is important to monitor trends in butterfly numbers over time to track the process of restoration for each species. To demonstrate this idea and to better understand these efforts, we ended the café with an activity about population point counting. Point-counting is a method that is used to predict the size of a population based on the number of butterflies one can see from a specific point. Ecologists compile all of these points to form a cohesive image of population density in specific habitats.

Hands on Activity

teens working on the butterfly activity.

Teens participate in the butterfly population estimate activity.

All guests stayed in their seats while mapping and counting the various “species” of paper butterflies that had been pasted around the room. The butterflies were of different sizes and colors, and located on different surfaces to imitate the difficulty of counting butterflies in their complex environment. Afterwards, they compared their results with a partner, and calculated the estimated population based on a given formula. We shared the real populations with the group, who were surprised to learn how few butterflies they actually spotted. This demonstrated the challenges of the researchers when attempting to conserve a species without knowing the exact population size.

Here’s more on the instructions for the point-counting activity the teens participated in.