Serpentine Butterfly Hike

A butterfly fan asks a question as Richard H. Smith, Ph.D, left, holding net, listens before the group sets out to observe butterflies at Soldiers Delight NEA
On Sunday, September 6, 2015, Johns Hopkins University professor and renowned butterfly expert Richard H. Smith led his semi-annual hike along the winding serpentine trail at Soldiers Delight NEA to observe and appreciate the plethora of barrens butterflies who feed on native flora at this time of year.  As a steady stream of butterfly aficionados filed into the auditorium at the Soldiers Delight Visitor Center, Dr. Smith readied his laptop and projector for a pre-hike slideshow about specific butterflies the group hoped to observe.

The butterfly lovers were not disappointed. With a brilliant sky and a slight breeze, almost a dozen hobbyists and nature lovers, loaded with close-focus camera lenses and lepidoptera handbooks, found almost perfect conditions for viewing the beautiful arthropods at Soldiers Delight, some of which are globally rare. High on Dr. Smith's wish list was to see good representation of the tiny but gorgeous Leonard's Skipper, with its rust-colored wings dotted with creamy-white spots, and the Dusted Skipper, whose larvae, like other skippers, depend on bluestem grasses abundant on the serpentine barrens.

At this time of year the purple blazing star, a flower native to the Soldiers Delight habitat, attracts a profuse variety of butterflies seeking its nectar. As is Dr. Smith's habit, he caught specimens with his large net, passed them around to the hikers in a glass jar for observation, and then set them free to flit, once again, from blossom to blossom out on the prairie.

Since butterflies tend to take wing only when the sun is shining, Dr. Smith and his troop could not have picked more perfect weather for the day's butterfly viewing. For those wishing to learn more about butterflies native to Soldiers Delight, please click on this link.

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