By Cameron Jury, Staff Writer
Earlier this week, a biologist who works for the state of Pennsylvania discussed restoration ecology around the Regal Fritillary Butterfly on military lands. Mark Swartz is currently a Pennsylvania state wildlife biologist and entomologist and works with the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs at the Fort Indiantown Gap (FIG) National Guard Training Center.
Currently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is working with biologists to perform surveys and keep close research on the species with the goal of eventually increase populations to what they once were. In the FIG area, in particular, they have been monitoring the Fritillary since 1992 with the main goals to establish new populations and strengthen the population stability. Some of the objections include the successful harvest of eggs, rearing of the larvae, release into sites, and follow on monitoring.
Specifically, the FIG land is home to one of the last known eastern populations of the Regal Fritillary Butterfly. The butterfly used to exist everywhere but currently only exists in the midwest as a western subspecies and within PA. This butterfly in particular is currently highly protected as it is an endangered species. In fact, the National Guard had to pay as a result of a lawsuit where they were attempting to change the butterflies’ habitat into a tank range.
Swartz spoke passionately about the Fritillary and told the room all about its interesting and unique ecology. The species has very specific plant associations but have no specific location to lay over 4,000 eggs to be hatched in the winter. Some of these plants include violets, warm-season bunch grasses, milkweeds, and thistles. These butterflies are cold-blooded, so they cannot be out in the direct sunlight for long periods of time.
Swartz also gave an overview of the land at FIG which is about 60 miles away from Gettysburg. FIG is the busiest national guard base in the United States at almost 17,000 acres in size. It is located within the Kittatinny Ridge Complex which lies between Second Mountain and Blue Mountain. This land is maintained by a combination of land management and other disturbances and contains a “large mosaic of habitats.” He further dove into more specifics describing the reason for grasslands that occur where they shouldn’t be as well as restoring prairies.
Finally, Swartz spoke of how one of the related projects they are currently working on involves finding grasslands fit for the reintroduction of the species, and that they often partner with colleges to do so. This current research has received a lot of support, and their partners include Temple University, Zooamerica, Ernst Seeds, and more.
Currently in PA, Boyer Tract, Clarion, and Middle Creek are all state game lands that are acting as active reintroduction sites for the butterfly. More specifically, the Gettysburg Battlefield is a research site that will be incorporated into the program in the next coming season. This research taking place on our battlefield will bring opportunities for Gettysburg College students.