A short walk from the Catoctin Creek Park & Nature Center in rural Middletown, James Edmonds dashed around in a large field yesterday, in pursuit of various species of butterflies.
He enjoys the challenge of catching them — especially tiger swallowtails, monarchs and zebra swallowtails.
“Don’t look away from them,” said Edmonds, 9, when asked the trick to catching a butterfly. “You have to be ready for them turning, because they flutter and zig zag.”
Edmonds was one of many kids who showed up to the nature center Sunday morning, participating in the center’s annual butterfly count.
Kathy Barylski, a volunteer with the center, has led the butterfly count each year since the center opened in 2011. Species of butterflies change year to year, but recent data shows diversity has been steady near the center.
From 2015-18, participants counted 27, 22, 30 and 27 species of butterflies respectively, according to data shared by Barylski. In the last three years, people have caught 300 or more butterflies near the center, she said.
Butterfly conservation groups across the Mid-Atlantic region think butterfly counts are up because of damper springs, which results in more food for caterpillars, which then leads to more butterflies.
Sunday’s annual count at the nature center is “citizen science,” she added—and it encourages family participation and helps kids get involved in nature. They catch butterflies, identify them back at the center, and then release them back into the wild.
On Sunday, participants caught 36 different species and about 600 total butterflies—a single-day record for the count, she said.
“The kids love to get to take the butterflies in their hands, and then let them go,” Barylski said. “It makes happy kids, they learn more, and get excited about the butterflies, and we get the science aspect.”
Amanda Edmonds, mother of Ethan and his brother, Liam, 11, was also out catching butterflies Sunday. It was their second year of participating in the count.
Amanda, from Kensington, said the event is good for her kids, and appreciates the education aspect.
“I really like there are older kids who are really excited as well,” she said. “Having them [my kids] learn from the older kids, and not just adults, is great.”
One of those kids was Ethan Rembold, who lives in the Gambrill Mountains area. Rembold, 15, was participating in his fourth count.
“I’ve kind of always been interested in insects,” Rembold said. “Me personally, I’ve always had an interest toward beetles ... it’s kind of an unexplored area, they’re everywhere and they’re so important, they’re misunderstood.”
The hands-on experience kids get from the count is something Lou Altamura of Frederick experiences. Altamura said he’s participated in the event for the last few years.
“It’s a good experience you can’t get in the classroom,” he said. “And when you get 25 to 30 people with nets, you’d be surprised at everything that people catch.”
That hunt for the butterflies is what Rembold enjoys most.
“I always like the adrenaline of, in the moment, there you are—just you, and an insect. Catch it!” he said. “And that’s your only goal.”