Minnesota Biological Survey shares moth and butterfly information for the North Shore
Moths and butterflies of all shapes, sizes and lively colors are found in Minnesota. In fact, researchers estimate that there are nearly 2500 species of moths and butterflies across the entire state. With butterflies only accounting for less than 7% of the total population.
The Minnesota Biological Survey estimates that roughly 1000 of the total winged species population call the North Shore of Minnesota home. And there are still more yet to be discovered.
“At the moment, there’s still a lot of specimens that are being identified,” said Kyle Johnson, lepidopterist with the Minnesota Biological Survey.
The Minnesota Biological Survey was established in 1987 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to systematically survey the natural habitats of every county in the state. Currently, it has surveyed 81 of 87 counties.
Johnson joined the Minnesota Biological Survey in 2009 while stationed in Grand Marais. He has spent considerable time surveying moths and butterflies in Cook County and personally identified over 500 species in the area.
He said, “That’s just scratching the surface. There’s a lot more to be done. I certainly expect a great diversity and in the arrowhead as well.”
While the main objective of conducting lepidoptery surveys is to get an overall sense of the biodiversity across the state, the surveys also help identify particular conservation needs.
Johnson shares that surveys are conducted both during the day and at night. “The most exciting as far as finding lots of new things that no one’s seen before is going out at night and using specialized lights.” He adds, “Either ultraviolet or mercury vapor and sometimes baits of banana and brown sugar pheromone traps.”
A few recognizable species along the North Shore tend to be the White Admiral and the black and yellow Canadian Tiger Swallowtails. However, Johnson also said Monarchs are probably the best-known species that wander up from the south and can often be found near milkweeds.
While Monarchs, the state butterfly of Minnesota, frequent the North Shore, the species may be fleeting. Unfortunately, the Monarch butterfly was recently listed as endangered.
While Monarch populations are decreasing, one moth species, in particular, is thriving: Aspen Leafminers. Johnson explains the tiny moth is smaller than a grain of rice, and populations are in the billions.
The tiny species’ journey begins as a caterpillar and, as the name entails, feeds or ‘mines’ on aspen leaves. Johnson said, “Sometimes they’re so common, they can actually change the color of the forest from the typical bright green aspen to a dull olive color.”
Johnson shares that he is still discovering new species in Minnesota, and each one gives him an adrenaline rush. “It’s like getting a 50-plus inch northern on the line, you know, your heart really starts going,” He said.
While Johnson conducts surveys across the state, he is currently focused on the northwest region. However, he plans to start research at Minnesota Point in Duluth, Minn., shortly. The Minnesota Point is a tiny sliver of sand that extends from Canal Park in Lake Superior. Johnson said the area has a very rare ecosystem and he hopes to find a new species there.
In addition, Johnson plans to study biodiversity response following the Greenwood Lake fire in 2021.
WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Kyle Johnson, lepidopterist with the Minnesota Biological Survey, to learn more about moths and butterflies along the North Shore. Audio from the interview is below.