Hunting Butterflies

If you are a biologist and you visit Yellowstone National Park, you often wake up before even the smallest sliver of light has broken across the horizon. You head out and get into position just as a golden edge of light begins to creep into the sky, and you wait. If you are lucky and patient you will notice a faint puff of silver fog on the edge of a tree line. Then a sleek grey muzzle will emerge followed by the slender graceful body of a wolf.

During the summer, most animals will be active at dusk and dawn. These are the coolest hours of the day and when it will cost the least amount of energy for them to forage or hunt. At the peak of the day, sensible creatures will lie down and wait out the heat. Butterflies are one of the exceptions.

Butterflies love the heat. They sit in the sun and slowly open and close their wings as they soak up the warmth. The longer they sit in the light, the more energy their muscles have and the more they can fly. Butterflies also love still windless days. They are small, fragile creatures and they have a very hard time battling any wind without being blown off course. So, I spent my summer trekking through prairies on the hottest, driest, sunniest, windless days in the baking sun in search of butterflies. Despite that, I have rarely seen so many beautiful sights or had so much fun in my life.

The Wilds is located on lands that were once heavily strip-mined. This is a mining practice where huge roving factories dig up the top few feet of the earth over vast landscapes in search of minerals. Then they throw down the seeds for whatever plant will grow the fastest and they leave. Over the years since the Wilds was established, it has worked to remove the resilient invasive plants and restore the native prairies.

The oldest restored prairies on the property are now over fifteen years old and they are absolutely beautiful. Imagine a sea of green interspersed with flowers of all colors: red, yellow, blue, purple, orange, and pink. Then imagine lush green bunches of grass that stretch above your head. Finally, imagine lovely, iridescent, fluttering, creatures that swim through the air dancing from one flower to the next. This was my summer. Of course it was hot and I was very familiar with ticks, but these are very small trade-offs for such an amazing experience.

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