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Butterfly Research



Butterfly Research Attila Kapitany 1st August 2015

I propose a plan to involve collaboration between international cactus and succulent societies, to collect data from members, about cacti and other succulents that attract butterflies primarily from within gardens or collections. While lists of general plants that attract butterflies already exist, these lists include only one or two, if any succulents. More importantly this literature is very old, out of date and now riddled with errors, yet recirculated again and again as if still current and correct.


Why hasn’t there been any new research or at least an upgrade of the old records with correct names? One can assume it is not very important to scientists or science in general, especially if it is not about a natural ecosystem. This information can be very important to those who want to be more than just gardeners and want to be more environmentally responsible.

The cost and time to do substantial research on this topic could be prohibitive for any one person or localized team to undertake, but for international plant societies like ours where volunteers are aplenty, it could be relatively cost free. An increasingly common new term called ‘citizen science’ describes the now widespread use of citizens to voluntary collect data for scientific research.

Social media now provides platforms on which it would seem an easy way to collect such data; however it could be far more advantageous if our societies had more control or ‘ownership’ of such a plan with its content and future value to society members.

If various countries designate a volunteer or team to ask all members via their respective journals, it becomes a more formal and valued request. It can easily be made to look worthwhile to participate. It has never been attempted before and may result in a sense of ‘worthwhile science gathering’ in which all gardeners can participate. An example of data to be sought:

  • Butterfly images taken by member—only if taken on a succulent ( the term succulent also covers cacti from here on)

  • Date, time, place, country.

  • Plant name, if known—especially in case the plant ID is not apparent within image.

  • Did the butterfly visit once, or did you notice repeated visits, of the same butterfly on the same day?

  • Did the butterfly visit more than one species of plant?

  • Did you observe any egg laying, larvae or chrysalides on your succulents?


The benefit to photographers would be to include their name plus their society name with each image that is stored or used in an ever accumulative database of information. One day this will be of great value to cactus and succulent enthusiasts and general gardeners worldwide. Any images used on the internet, can get watermarked as with the example below. This protection could also follow with a reference to the original owner, or Society for the purchase of a high resolution original image, without the watermark.


butterfly name____________ plant name____________ photographer___________ date______



Our succulent societies are in a perfect position to take ownership of some research that can benefit members worldwide. Forever, this ongoing research will be sourced from cactus and succulent societies. This can be an example of good P.R. and networking from a strong base. Scientists might find some of our efforts of benefit for their research.

Ideas similar to this butterfly project, about collecting data from members worldwide about anything related to our hobby, could be valued, collated and then offered back to members via journals and websites. Other ideas could include a similar project with birds associated with our plants, instead of butterflies. Once such ‘fun’ activities are pursued with enthusiasm and their success/failure is learnt from, then less popular topics can be tried e.g. Insect pests in our succulent garden/collections, but again, only if photographed on a succulent and preferably in the process of eating, or sucking plant juices. Expert photographers and even amateurs can now do macro photography, so some really exciting images of mealy bugs would be sure to feature.

Funding for a photo competition, as suggested previously, need only be a ‘kick-starter’ of sorts, as outside funding can eventually be sought from individuals and businesses that may want to come on board and sponsor prizes.

Several other issues might still need to be worked through, should such a proposal become a reality. Certainly a few people might be negative, citing obstacles to this idea and so their comments and suggestions would be really welcome and helpful. Imagine if one day there is a single source for information researched by and through our societies on a range of topics. For example, lists of all worthwhile edible plants in our range of interest and all worthwhile scented flowers, butterfly attracting, poisonous, exceptionally weedy etc. This could become an important part of our societies’ responsibilities and benefit to members.

As the membership in our plant societies fluctuates, so does our value to remain and encourage new membership. If we change with the times to keep up and expand interest and involvement, then it automatically improves membership and their sense of worth.


Further reading

  1. The first citizen science project designed to answer a specific research question (versus inventory and monitoring projects) probably involved an insect, the monarch butterfly (Urquhart 1976). Today, organized citizen science programs are flourishing, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has recently developed a “toolkit” for program managers.’

    Source: Citizen Science Central

  2. Citizen science and the resulting ecological data can be viewed as a public good that is generated through increasingly collaborative tools and resources, while supporting public participation in science and Earth stewardship. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA






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