We know that every butterfly watcher experiences amazing observations all the time. Our goal is to gather this incredible individual experience in the form of checklists, archive it, and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education. At the same time, we develop tools that make butterfly watching more rewarding. From being able to manage lists and photos, to seeing real-time maps of butterfly distribution, or the ability to discuss your sightings with others; we strive to provide the most current and useful information to the community.
- Track your butterfly sightings and locations
- Organize, store and share your photos
- Find butterflies you have never seen
- Explore dynamic range maps
- Share your sightings with others
- Contribute to science and conservation
A real-time, online checklist and photo storage program, eButterfly is providing a new way for the butterfly community to report, organize and access information about butterflies in Central and North American and the Caribbean. eButterfly provides rich data sources for basic information on butterfly abundance, distribution, and phenology at a variety of spatial and temporal scales across the region.
eButterfly is maximizing the utility and accessibility of the vast numbers of butterfly observations, photographs, and collections made each year by recreational and professional butterfly enthusiasts. With your help, we are amassing one of the largest and fastest growing insect data resources to inform our understanding of ecological and agricultural systems in the region.
Through time, each participant, each observation and photograph, each checklist, and each identification builds the database. eButterfly then shares this treasure trove of butterfly information with a global community of community scientists, educators, students, lepidopterists, conservationists, and land managers. In time, this information will become the foundation for a better understanding of butterfly distribution and population trends across the region.
How Does It Work?
eButterfly documents the presence or absence of species as well as abundance through checklist data. A web-interface engages participants to submit their observations through interactive questions and answers. eButterfly encourages users to participate repeatedly by providing tools to maintain their personal observations and photo records as well as providing tools to enable them to visualize data with interactive maps, graphs, and bar charts. All these features are currently available in English with both French and Spanish coming very soon.
An eButterfly user logs into their account and enters when, where, and how they observed butterflies. Then they are prompted to create a checklist of all butterflies seen or photographed during the outing. eButterfly provides several options for data gathering including transects, area searches, timed searches or even incidental observations. Just like in a museum with specimens, other users and experts help to verify the identity of each observation. Users can even discuss observations and checklists with each other.
A Little eButterfly History
From a graduate school student’s lofty dream a decade ago to a full-fledged citizen science program today, eButterfly has come a long way. You might even say that eButterfly actually took flight over 60 years ago when Jacques Larivée started Études des Populations d’Oiseaux du Québec bird checklist program. Now with over 10 million records, it’s the longest-running bird checklist program in North America. The daily checklists have provided incredibly reliable information on changes in bird populations, phenology, and geographic and climate abundance patterns at local, regional, and continental scales. His son Max Larrivée grew up checklisting in eastern Québec. It wasn’t birds that caught his eye, but rather butterflies.
“Because of my dad, I swam in butterfly and bird checklists since I was five years old,” said Larrivée. “I first thought of building a checklist-based butterfly website in 2000 when I entered graduate school.”
But it wasn’t until he joined the Canadian Facility for Ecoinformatics Research, led by Jeremy Kerr at the University of Ottawa, that he was able to act on his idea. They wanted to unify all of Canada’s butterfly record data into a single database and continue to survey across the country. And the only way they could do that on a meager budget was to unite a lot of professional lepidopterists and amateur butterfly watchers together.
““In 2010 I pinned two college computer science teams against one another to build a beta version of eButterfly,” said Larrivée. “ And that is how I met Xinbao Zhang who turned out to be a real wizard of a programmer for this sort of thing and we’ve been working together ever since.”
After two years of fine-tuning the system, with great support from local butterfly experts Peter Hall, Ross Layberry, Jeff Skevington, Rick Cavasin and the Ottawa area butterfly group, they launched a modest Canadian eButterfly program in 2012. The site was a success in Canada, but they knew they could make it even better if they expand it across the remainder of North America to increase its scope and research potential of the data gathered by the project.
Katy Prudic, a scientist at the University of Arizona, was thinking the same thing. “Butterflies, an important part of many ecosystems, are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, population growth, urban sprawl, land and water use, and many other forces”, Prudic said. “Experts have the ability with powerful computers to interpret these changes and better understand how they are affecting biodiversity – but they don’t have the manpower to gather all the data”. She quickly joined the eButterfly team and helped them expand across North America.
With eButterfly’s popularity rising rapidly, they were poised to evolve the site even further. Kent McFarland, a long-time butterfly watcher and director of the Vermont Butterfly Survey at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, had been managing the first eBird state portal for over a decade. “I started using eButterfly right away when I discovered it and I realized it had the potential to be as big and powerful as eBird one day,” said McFarland.
He joined the team and they all soon traveled to the home of eBird at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where Team eBird offered to give technical advice for a few days. “The folks at eBird were incredible,” said Larrivée. “They really encouraged us to keep going and were incredibly helpful in advising us on all aspects of this. It really allowed us to leap forward quickly.” Armed with a better understanding of the underpinnings of eBird, the team worked through the fall and winter racing to get the new and improved eButterfly ready by spring.
Like eBird, eButterfly is a source of standardized georeferenced presence/presumed absence data, not just single observation presence-only data. Single observation presence-only data, which includes most citizen science outside of eBird and eButterfly along with data from natural history specimen collections, while valuable is of limited information beyond phenology and broadly defined species distribution for example. These models play a critical role in conservation decision-making and ecological or biogeographical inference, but can lead to suboptimal conservation outcomes. eButterfly data collection protocols offer more and better refined modeling outcomes for conservation and ecology. Building models with suitable data maximizes these rare and valuable resources and delivers outputs that better inform conservation, management decisions and move scientific research forward.
eButterfly has included historic data from various museum collections and biodiversity institutions into the distribution and phenology features and tools. These data may help inform how butterflies populations and phenology have changed across North America. If you have historic data, please consider adding it to eButterfly or the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
eButterfly data are stored in a secure facility and archived daily at the University of Ottawa. These data are accessible to anyone via the eButterfly website. eButterfly data is also shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and updated daily. Visit the eButterfly Survey dataset and be sure to cite the DOI if you use it in any publications.
Larrivée M, McFarland K, Zhang X, Prudic K, Solis R, Bunsen M, Kerr J (2021). eButterfly Surveys. Version 1.6. Vermont Center for Ecostudies. Sampling event dataset https://doi.org/10.15468/ykxm8x accessed via GBIF.org on DATE.