LAWRENCE — University of Kansas scientists welcome the public to an event this week, when thousands of Emperor Hackberry butterflies are expected to emerge at the Fitch Natural History Reservation, northeast of Lawrence Municipal Airport.
From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, June 6, researchers with the KU Natural History Museum and Kansas Biological Survey will be on hand to offer information and guidance to visitors.
Ornithologist Mark Robbins expects to see thousands of the butterflies emerging at the property, which is part of the KU Field Station and managed by the Biological Survey. He noted that the numbers of butterflies will be fewer than in 2012, when another event at the Field Station called attention to the insects. In part, this may be attributed to the harsh winter of the past year and to bird migration.
“It was amazing during the past two weeks to watch hundreds of birds (the largest numbers were Cedar Waxwings) devour the caterpillars,” Robbins said. “Birds that normally are not found in woodlands, such as Dickcissels and Eastern Kingbirds, were not only in the tree crowns but were on the ground eating the caterpillars. Thus, both the resident birds as well as migrants headed to Canada to breed had a major impact on the number of butterflies that will emerge. As they say, timing is everything.”
Although their numbers will be down, Robbins said that visitors will still see clouds of the insects throughout the area. In the event of a thunderstorm, the event will be canceled.
Visitors should be prepared for wooded hiking conditions: Wear loose-fitting clothing, bring water and use insect repellant. The Fitch Reservation and the rest of the Field Station have very limited parking; carpooling to the site is encouraged. Visitors may park at the McColl Reserve lot across from the entrance to the Fitch Reservation. Directions to the site are available at http://kufs.ku.edu/about/directions/ Visitors are also asked to stay on established trails.
For those who cannot attend the event, the KU Field Station welcomes the public any day at the Fitch Reservation and any part of its five-mile public trail system from dawn to dusk.