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A Report on the Butterflies of Your District


A Report on the Butterflies of Your District

    Satin Azure

    Photo by R.P. Field © Museum Victoria

  1. Butterflies of Your Neighbourhood
  2. Butterflies of Your District
  3. Butterfly Classification
  4. Related Species
  5. Butterfly Distribution
  6. Butterfly Food Plants
  7. Butterfly Scarcity
  8. Butterflies and Ants
  9. Butterfly Images
  10. Your Report

Use the information in the Bioinformatics Data Bases to prepare a report on the butterflies of your district. This can be done either as an individual student project, or as a class project with each student researching one butterfly. Primary school students will need to obtain a little assistance to interpret what they find out, but secondary school students should be able to work alone.

The first thing to do is to decide what form your report will take. It could be an article for the school magazine, a report to the school community, or a major feature in the local newspaper. It could also simply be a poster, or a talk presented to the class, but if done carefully, should be a useful addition to the environmental knowledge and awareness of the school community.

To begin your research, the class should do the first two tasks ('Butterflies of Your Neighbourhood' and 'Butterflies of Your District') together. Once you have a list of the butterflies recorded in your district, the work of researching each butterfly (or a selection of them) can proceed, with each student taking responsibility for one butterfly.

1. Butterflies of Your Neighbourhood

Examine the key for identifying Victorian butterflies which is provided at:

Identification of Possible Species

Over several weeks in the warmer months of the year, observe as many butterflies as possible in your school ground and the local neighbourhood, paying particular attention to the characteristics included in the key:

  • Major colours on the wings
  • Shape of antennae
  • Shape of the hind wing
  • Presence of 'eye spots' on their wings
  • Silhouette (This is more difficult, and shouldn't be used unless you're sure!)

Enter the characteristics of each butterfly you observe, and see if you can identify them using the key. Record the names and number of sightings of each butterfly.

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2. Butterflies of Your District

Now obtain details of the butterflies that have been recorded in your district by the Museum Victoria between 1890 and 1998. Carry out the following search:

  • To obtain a list of butterflies for your city, town or district:

    User Defined Locality Search

    Enter the name of your area and obtain a list of butterfly species. If you don't obtain a very big list, and want to know what has been found in your wider district, carry out one of the alternative searches listed below:

    • If you live in country Victoria, obtain a list of butterflies for a block of land 30 minutes square (roughly 45 km x 55 km):

      Butterfly Checklist Map Search

      Click on the area in which your school or home is located to obtain your list. If you want to search an even larger area, click and highlight a few adjoining areas.

    • OR

    • If you live in the Greater Melbourne area, obtain a list of butterflies for a block of land 10 minutes square (roughly 15 km x 18 km):

      Cumulative Butterfly Checklist for the Greater Melbourne Area

      Click on the area in which your school or home is located to obtain your list. If you want to search an even larger area, click and highlight a few adjoining areas.

The list you have obtained shows you the names of the butterflies that have been recorded by Museum Victoria in your area. Compare this list with the list of butterflies you have observed in your school ground and neighbourhood. What differences do you notice? Can you think of any reasons why the two lists may be different? Has there, for instance, been any clearing of land or changes of land use in your neighbourhood or district?

Combine the two lists and find out a little more about the butterflies of your district. Allocate the butterfly species to the students in the class and carry out the following searches for each butterfly.

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3. Butterfly Classification

Classification Search

Enter the names of the butterflies you have chosen (one at a time, please!) and you will obtain a detailed account of their lineage (from kingdom, through phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, etc.).

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4. Related Species

Would you like to know what the close relatives of your butterflies are?

Nature's Family Tree or Hierarchical Searches

Enter the generic names of the butterflies you have chosen (again, one at a time, please!) and you will obtain a list of close relatives. The generic name of your butterfly is the first word of the scientific name eg. Antipodia chaostola (the Chaostola Skipper).

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5. Butterfly Distribution

Where else in Victoria has the Museum recorded sightings of your chosen butterflies? Carry out the following search:

Species Search

Enter the name of one of your butterflies, and find out how many records for the butterfly are held by Museum Victoria.

  1. 'Click to View All Records' to obtain a list of all records of this butterfly recorded by Museum Victoria.
  2. 'Click for Distribution Map' to obtain a list of just where in Victoria the butterfly has been recorded. You will also obtain six maps showing these locations. The maps are:
    • Plain map
    • Vegetation map
    • Altitude map
    • Rainfall map
    • Zoogeographic map
    • Rivers map
    Carefully examine each map and try to write statements about where your butterfly occurs in Victoria.
  3. 'Click for Full Monthly Frequency Catches' to obtain graphs showing the months in which the Museum has recorded your butterfly. (Most butterfly sightings are in the warmer months of the year.) Can you explain your results? What is the weather like when your butterfly is active (and inactive)?

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6. Butterfly Food Plants

Each species of butterfly has a few favourite plants on which they lay their eggs to ensure that the caterpillars will have food when they hatch. In many cases, they will have other favourite plants from which they obtain nectar as adult butterflies. It is useful to know what these plants are, because they can be planted to attract butterflies, or steps can be taken to conserve them when clearing or development threatens.

Find out which plants are favoured by your chosen butterflies:

Butterfly to Host or Food Plant Searches

Enter the names of your chosen butterflies and obtain the names of the host or food plants they favour. See if you can obtain some information about these plants.
Do you or your parents or friends know these plants?
Are they widespread in your district?
Do these plants change throughout the year? Is this part of the explanation for the data on the months in which your butterfly is active (and inactive)? (5(c) above)
Were they more widespread in the past?
Are there any in your school or home garden?
Perhaps you can arrange for some to be planted to attract butterflies to your garden.

Be aware that other butterflies may also be attracted to this plant. To check whether this is the case, enter the name of the plant:

Host or Food Plant to Butterfly Searches

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7. Butterfly Scarcity

When were your chosen butterflies last recorded in your district? Perhaps they were recorded often in the past, but less frequently in recent decades. Perhaps the Museum has recorded butterflies which you have not observed in your school yard or neighbourhood, or perhaps you have observed butterflies that the Museum hasn't (see Tasks 1 and 2 above).

Environmental changes including habitat destruction, changes in vegetation, predators, weather and disease, together with how frequently and how recently the Museum has been able to visit your district will explain most of the variation in recorded sightings. It may be, for instance, that the food plants of some of your butterflies were once present in your district but are now rare or absent (see Task 6 above).

Examine the data for all of Victoria first:

Decade Adult Butterflies Frequency Search

Enter the name of your butterfly. Try to write several statements about the pattern of recorded sightings in Victoria over the past century. Can you think of any reasons for the changes in frequency of sightings? Are the results due to environmental changes or to the number of field trips conducted by the Museum?

Enter the name of your butterfly again, and this time add the name of your district. Again try to write several statements about the pattern of recorded sightings over the past century - this time for your district.

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8. Butterflies and Ants

Some species of ants keep the caterpillars of certain butterflies to obtain the secretions the caterpillars provide. It's a little like humans keeping dairy cows! Other caterpillars actually feed on ant larvae. Do your chosen butterflies have a symbiotic relationship with ants?

Find a definition of 'symbiotic' and then carry out the following search:

Butterfly to Ant Symbiotic Relationship Search

If the name of your butterfly is listed, enter it to discover the ant species it has a relationship with. Find out more about this ant species from reference books in your library. (If your butterfly species isn't listed, it doesn't have a symbiotic relationship with ants).

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9. Butterfly Images

To obtain one or several images of your chosen butterflies, carry out the following search:

Image Search

Enter the names of your chosen butterflies, select 'All Available Images' and gain access to all the images of the butterflies which are on the data base. These may be of eggs, larvae (caterpillars), larvae and ants, pupae (chrysalis), live adults, Museum Victoria pinned adult specimens, food plants, or habitats. Click on thumbnails to access and enlarge images.

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10. Your Report

Once you have finished the searches outlined above, you are ready to write your report. You may decide to supplement the data you have obtained with information from reference books in your library. This may provide you with additional information on butterflies in general, or on the butterfly you have chosen. You may also decide to carry out several additional butterfly observation field trips (in the warmer months), or you may be able to obtain information on butterfly sightings from your parents, neighbours or local naturalists. This will provide you with some indication of whether the number of butterfly species in your district has changed over the years.

When you feel you have enough material, you should write your report on the butterfly you have chosen. These individual reports can then be combined as a report on the butterflies of your district. This could then be presented as:

  • a school project
  • a talk to your class or to a parents meeting
  • a talk on the local radio station
  • an article for the school magazine or the local paper

You will probably find that the information is of interest to many people in your local area, so the project could be a good opportunity to publicise the school as well as making the local community more environmentally aware.

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