Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, July 13

Gapers Block

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Normally anything with more than four legs give me the shivers, but butterflies are alright. Adult butterflies are bright and beautiful, and I'm not the only one to think so.

Although it does not quite rival the fanaticism of bird watching, butterfly watching has a growing legion of devotees. With the continuing depletion of natural habitats, many people take up the hobby as they become concerned about the conservation and protection of butterfly populations.

Scientists estimate there are more than 20,000 species of butterflies in the world, but only little over 700 of these can be spotted in North America. The Butterflies of North America website, from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, is the most comprehensive online guide for local species information and general butterfly resources. Be sure to check out the complete list of butterfly species found in Illinois. Most entries include a color photo of the butterfly, basic species information, and a map highlighting the counties where the species has been spotted.

In the Chicago area, common butterfly species include the Black Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Eastern Tailed Blue, Spring Azure, Monarch and many others. The following tips and resources will help you get started spotting and identifying the butterflies in your backyard.

Grab a field guide.
Although hundreds of books about butterflies crowd the shelves of bookshops, only a relative few are considered definitive. Pick up a copy of either A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies by Paul A. Opler and V. Malikul (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998) or the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies by Robert Michael Pyle (New York: Knopf, 1981). As a beginner one guide will do, but experts recommend having both books handy because each has its strengths and weaknesses. Butterflies of North America: A Natural History and Field Guide by James A. Scott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992) is another good reference source.

Head outdoors.
Even in the city, one can find several good sites for butterfly watching. On the South Side, Bobolink Meadow and the Paul Douglas Nature Sanctuary in Jackson Park both provide nice settings for spotting butterflies. On the North Side, try a visit to the Gompers Park Wetland at Foster Avenue and Pulaski Road.

Of course, to make it really easy, just visit the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park. The haven features dozens of different types of butterflies, including local and international species.

Become a volunteer.
Ready to take your butterfly watching prowess to the next step? Then consider becoming a volunteer monitor. Join the Chicago Park District Butterfly Monitoring Program, which monitors butterfly populations throughout the Chicago Park District system. Or, outside Chicago, check out the broader Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, "a citizen scientist program monitoring the health of butterfly populations throughout northeastern and central Illinois." According to the website, monitors are needed now for western McHenry County and southwestern Kane County.

Finally, even if you are not suddenly seized with the urge to run outside and look for butterflies, I hope this will inspire you to learn more about these special — and non-icky — insects. Visit the following websites for more information on the science of butterflies and fun of butterfly watching.

Additional Resources:

North American Butterfly Association
The official website of NABA is a great starting place for the butterfly enthusiast. This non-profit organization is dedicated to increasing "public enjoyment and conservation of butterflies," and the website includes a wide variety of resources to help one do just that. The up-to-date list of recent butterfly sightings from around the country is especially impressive.

The Butterfly Site
Billed as the "#1 site for butterfly information on the Internet," The Butterfly Site has a good collection of links and resources collected into several topic categories.

The Butterfly WebSite
Similar to the above, The Butterfly WebSite is another good starting place for finding links and information about a variety of butterfly-related subjects.

Field Museum Butterfly Collection
Capturing and mounting butterflies is strongly discouraged as a hobby today, but the Field Museum has an astounding historical collection of more than 90,000 butterfly specimens from all over the world. Visit the website to see just a few examples.


Join the Gapers Block Book Club! Just sign up for the email list for news, announcements and more. This month we are reading Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago by Eric Klinenberg. We will be meeting to discuss the book on Monday, August 8, at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. The meeting will begin at 7:30pm.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . Due to the volume of email received, she may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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