Chasing butterflies: a butterfly monitoring workshop in the High Atlas

By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Mediterranean Programme and Communications Coordinator

30 July 2019

At the end of June, our team in Morocco went on an exciting mission. Together with our local partner Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA) we left our office in Marrakech for a two-day field workshop on butterflies in the beautiful mountains of Oukaïmeden. We were joined by Andreu and Constanti, two butterfly experts from the Catalan Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (Barcelona), who trained us in catching, identifying and monitoring butterflies.

Let’s take you through a quick photo journey of the workshop we had and the beautiful butterflies we discovered along the way. Rest assured, no harm was caused to the butterflies during this workshop.

On the first day, we gathered for a theoretical session to increase our understanding of the different characteristics and species of butterflies. We learned that there are diurnal (day) and nocturnal (night) butterflies, all of which are grouped into six butterfly families. We also learned there are at least 104 day butterfly species found in the Moroccan High Atlas.

After the introductory session, we headed off on foot to some agricultural plots with orchids nearby in search of real life butterflies!

We carefully observed the different characteristics, patterns and colours of the butterflies we spotted, which helped us identify the exact species. The butterfly on the left is a small white butterfly called Pieris rapae, also known as the ‘small white’. The one on the right is called Melanargia ines or the ‘Spanish marbled white’, which can be found on the Iberian Peninsula and the western parts of North Africa.

With all this new knowledge, we travelled across the beautiful Agdal¹ of Oukaïmeden, one of GDF-MBLA project sites, to start putting theory into practice. Following our experts’ example, we looked for butterflies everywhere while encouraging our team members to try and catch them.

While some of our team members were trying very hard to practice their butterfly catching skills…

…others were observing and admiring butterflies up close and identifying them with the help of a butterfly guide. We learned this butterfly is called Melanargia galathea and belongs to the Nymphalidae family. It is also known as ‘the marbled white’.

On the second day, it was time to put everything we learned the previous day to practice. We went back to the agdal and split in two groups to each do a transect—a path along which we count and record every appearance of the species of study. While walking along the transect, we noted down how many (and which) butterflies we spotted within a 2m corridor on either side of the transect line.

Since we just started learning about the different kinds of butterflies, it was quite challenging to spot from afar exactly which species were flying around. However, our team quickly learned how to carefully catch butterflies and so when in doubt we chased after the butterfly for a closer look.

In less than an hour of observation, one group had identified 20 different species and over 35 day butterflies along their transect such as the ‘common blue’ above. A very promising start!

We are all very excited to include day butterflies to our bi-annual ecological monitoring processes, whereby we will track butterfly populations in a changing environment. This will allow us to gain a better understanding of their role in the High Atlas ecosystem.

Thanks to the support of the MAVA Foundation, we are implementing a systematic biodiversity monitoring protocol, which is necessary to assess and maintain ecosystem health and to study the impact of environmental challenges such as climate change.

¹Agdals consist of large tracts of land with a source of water, used for grazing or foraging during specific periods of time throughout the year. These areas are collaboratively managed by several communities with specific regulations regarding access rights.