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Media Contact:
Dr. Nick Haddad, 919/515-4588
Mick Kulikowski, News Services, 919/515-3470.

Nov. 13 , 2002

Endangered Butterfly Lives Where Fire, Damage Abound


It's a paradox of nature: An artillery impact zone on the grounds of Fort Bragg, N.C. - an area so dangerous that only a select few are allowed to enter - is also the home of North Carolina's only endangered butterfly.

Dr. Nick Haddad, assistant professor of zoology at North Carolina State University, is trying to find out more about the Saint Francis' Satyr butterfly and make some sense of its paradoxical living arrangements.

Haddad has been granted access to Fort Bragg to research the butterfly and its natural habitat. His research will most likely be vital in preserving the butterfly's population for future generations, since it is currently the only study researching the population of the endangered butterfly.

St. Francis' Satyr

St. Francis' Satyr

Fort Bragg has several characteristics that make it a unique home for the endangered butterfly, Haddad says. The St. Francis' Satyr favors a marshy, open environment that is not shaded by dense forest. Today, artillery sets off fires that spread throughout the butterfly's landscape, keeping the woody vegetation down and the area open inside the artillery impact areas.

Clearings of this type may have been more common throughout North Carolina in the early 20th century, Haddad says, due to fires and the dam-building work of beavers, which both helped maintain the open areas favored by the butterfly.

But in many areas these disturbances simply stopped - due to extermination of beavers by humans and cessation of fires due to agricultural activity, Haddad says - and once-open areas became forests. So the butterfly's habitat became restricted to the artillery impact areas of Fort Bragg, Haddad says.

Fire, however, poses a difficult problem for the butterfly. "It's a catch-22," Haddad said. "Butterflies need fire to keep the habitat open. On the other hand, if you burn the habitat and there are butterflies in it, you risk losing the butterflies."

Very little is known about the butterfly's population, so one of Haddad's research goals is to come up with an estimate of its population size. Researching the population is a daunting task - the area surrounding its home is full of dense briar patches, poison sumac and murky waters. The Saint Francis' Satyr is not like other, more active butterflies, Haddad says. It tends to be very sedentary and enjoys hiding in the grass.

Once found, the butterflies are captured, carefully marked and returned to the environment. Haddad's research team will later attempt to recapture the marked butterflies, using the figures to statistically determine a population number.

Researchers know that the population of butterflies in the artillery impact area is much greater than surrounding areas, and the impact area is inaccessible, Haddad says. But - in another chapter of the paradoxical life of the Saint Francis' Satyr - while the lack of access restricts the study of these butterflies, it also protects them from the nets of butterfly collectors.

Removing the Saint Francis' Satyr from the endangered species list requires that the number of butterflies remains stable or increases for 10-15 years. For the population to increase, the butterfly must find another place to live besides Fort Bragg, Haddad says.

"I'm optimistic that either there is habitat on or off base that is just too far away for natural migration, or that we could restore sites using techniques that people have already used," Haddad said.

To determine if there are other places that are suitable to sustain the St. Francis' Satyr, Haddad must determine what the butterfly eats. As reclusive as the butterfly is, its caterpillar is even more shy. Its food source is unknown because the caterpillar has never been seen.

"Typically, we watch where the female lays its eggs. The young caterpillars don't move far so it is assumed that females would lay eggs on the food plant - these don't," Haddad says. He plans to study a captive population of the butterfly to help solve this problem.

All is not lost for the butterfly, however. The Saint Francis' Satyr has a distinct advantage in that it lives in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, an area that is not widely used for agriculture and therefore easy for conservationists to purchase. Haddad says that natural disturbances are also on the rise.

"There are plenty of beavers in the Sandhills. There is fire throughout Fort Bragg, the Sandhills game lands and other managed lands in the Sandhills," he says.

So, for now, the St. Francis' Satyr manages to survive, barely, in an area of destruction.


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