HARRISVILLE TWP. — Gray clouds gave way to sunshine and blue skies as crowds gathered at Medina County Park District’s Killbuck Lakes for a butterfly hike Sunday afternoon.
“This is former Baker Sand and Gravel property,” park naturalist Mark Ludwig told the group. “The lake is about 47 acres, so we are just going to walk part of the lake trail.”
More than 60 people came out to the 400-acre property to get the lowdown on butterflies in Northeast Ohio during the Natural Discoveries Series hike.
Fred and Mary Jane Thomas of Sharon Township said they are participating in the hiking series, and each hopes of being awarded a hiking stick after completing 10 of the series’ hikes.
“We are after our walking stick,” Mary Jane said. “You have to do 10 hikes in order to get it. This is our seventh hike.”
Fred said the couple has a variety of plants and flowers to attract butterflies around their home, and the couple thought they would take advantage of the nice weather and get another hike under their belts.
Mary Jane said it would be great to see a monarch butterfly during the hike.
“That would be lovely,” she said. “I know there is a monarch lookalike we see really frequently and I can’t always distinguish between them. I’m thinking maybe the ranger will give us some pointers.”
A couple suspected monarchs were sighted, but were too far away for verification.
Ludwig, who serves as supervisor of the park district’s butterfly volunteer survey program, said the hike could serve as training for prospective survey volunteers.
“Last year they found over 1,500 individual butterflies and about 38 different species, which is pretty good,” he said.
The volunteers survey Letha House Park in Chatham Township, Wolf Creek Environmental Center in Sharon Township and Killbuck Lakes.
Ludwig said at the close of the butterfly season, he calibrates the collected data before forwarding it to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“(Butterflies) are a very important health indicator of the environment,” Ludwig said. “If they are seeing a major decrease, honestly that could be a problem.”
Hikers stopped just a few minutes up the trail where Ludwig went over the common questions he typically fields about butterflies.
Ludwig addressed everything from the number of species of butterflies across the world to their typical lifecycle and even whether a butterfly can survive without its scales.
“Butterflies to me are a huge positive outlet,” he told the group. “They say to keep everything simple in life. Well, butterflies are simple creatures.
Ludwig said there are about 20,000 species of butterflies in the world, and about 575 species across the United States and 137 in Ohio.
“In this area, last year we had 38 different species,” Ludwig told the group.
Ludwig said the average lifecycle of an adult butterfly is typically about two weeks, and their slippery scales are designed to detach if a bird tries to catch one.
Nate Eppink of the Medina County Park District was on hand with 8-year-old daughter Stella for the hike.
“Two other kids are at home,” Eppink said. “This is a good chance for us to get some time together and to learn about butterflies.”
For information about the Natural Discoveries Hiking Series, visit www.medinacountyparks.com.