Monitoring the Frosted Elfin butterfly

An intern working with NAS Patuxent River’s Conservation and Planning Branch is helping to re-confirm the presence of the state-endangered Frosted Elfin butterfly onboard the installation.

Because of ongoing pollinator habitat management by Conservation and Planning personnel, the Frosted Elfin historically found a safe spot to call home in two areas on Pax River growing Wild Indigo, the host plant used by the butterfly to lay its eggs.

Perodically, intern Sarah Giordano — who is also conducting a Large Mammal Survey of deer and coyote onboard the air station — will position herself at one of the sites to watch for butterfly activity.

“The purpose of the monitoring is to confirm or deny the continued presence of this protected species,” explained Giordano, who holds a degree in Environmental Studies. “In addition to surveying for adult butterflies during the day, I also complete caterpillar surveys at night using a UV flashlight. It was found in recent years that the Frosted Elfin caterpillar will glow if you shine a black light on it. That makes finding the caterpillars much easier when the sun goes down.”

Continued management of the butterfly’s habitat areas includes deliberate mowing instructions and hand-cutting to keep woody vegetation from growing up and out-competing the Wild Indigo the Frosted Elfin depends on.