Butterfly Whisperer: Artist helps Yellowstone visitors learn about beautiful bugs
Story by CORINNE GARCIA
Photos by LYNN DONALDSON
A wildlife tour in Yellowstone National Park has often been compared to an African safari. But instead of zebras, lions and elephants, Yellowstone guests look for bison, elk and bears. Some even see a wolf if they’re lucky.
For many park visitors, seeing these large animals graze beside brightly colored hot pots and amid steam from nearby geysers is so out of the norm that it’s easy for them to overlook the smaller, more elusive creatures that exist amongst them.
But for Gardiner-based artist and wildlife biologist George Bumann, it’s the butterflies that intrigue him the most, and he’s helping other park visitors understand their significance. It’s not only the butterflies’ beauty that fascinates him, but also by their role in the park’s overall ecosystem.
“In Yellowstone, people get attached to those mega animals: the elk, bears and wolves,” Bumann said. “But what’s really amazing about this place is the tie between geology, plants and animals as they relate to each other; it’s a very tight-knit system.”
With 134 known species of butterfly living within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (out of a total of 725 in North America), the diversity inside and around the park is uncommonly high. For this reason, Yellowstone makes it onto most butterfly hobbyist’s bucket lists.
Yellowstone’s resident butterfly expert George Bumann introduces Hayden’s ringlet
Favorite butterfly: Hayden’s ringlet
Why? It is known as a Yellowstone area endemic, meaning it is found here and nowhere else outside of the region. The species derives its name from Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, leader of the U.S. Geological Survey expedition that documented the wonders of Yellowstone in 1871, resulting in its establishment as the world’s first national park.
What are some of its signature markings? The Hayden’s Ringlet is identified by its smooth, warm, gray color above and below, but when you see the underside of this quarter-sized insect’s hind wing, it has a wonderful row of orange eye spots near the back edge with large black pupils and silver-white centers. (Another signature feature) is its “fatalistic” flight pattern. When flitting about the open meadows of Yellowstone, the Hayden’s ringlet flies as if it is catching itself from a fall with each wingbeat. It’s a most dramatic thespian!
What is its migration pattern? This butterfly does not migrate, as with most species found in Yellowstone, but is limited to the mountainous areas of the northern Rocky Mountains. Thankfully, where you find it, you may find lots.
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