CHADRON – Dr. Mathew Brust, professor of Natural Sciences, recently presented “Current Conservation Status of Rare Butterflies and Grasshoppers in the Nebraska Panhandle,” a presentation during the Graves Lecture Series.
The lecture provided Brust an opportunity to inform the public and communicate what he knows about the organisms.
“A scientist can probably do a better job at, and partially it’s because we don’t have time, communicating our knowledge to the public so that it can use it. A philosophical conclusion that I’ve come to over the years, as a naturalist, is I’m often disappointed that more people don’t appreciate some of these things in nature and appreciate the diversity. But on the flip side, if somebody is not even aware of the diversity out there, how can they come to appreciate it,” Brust said.
According to Brust, Nebraska has a high diversity of organisms, specifically with butterflies and grasshoppers, because it sits at a geographical crossroad and transition of the northern Great Plains, the southern Great Plains, the Nebraska Sandhills and the eastern tallgrass prairies.
Additionally, the precipitation differences from the eastern and western part of the state influence the different types of plants that grow and affect the different types of insects that benefit from them.
“When you study insects, you have to know your plants because insects and plants are very closely intertwined in a lot of cases, especially in butterflies because larval stages all pretty much feed on plants of some sort,” Brust said.
Brust is one of four naturalists who work with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to track and record the more than 200 butterfly species in Nebraska. He said rare butterfly species are not easy to identify and few organismal biologists are being trained.
“Despite butterflies being a popular group with naturalists, the statuses of many Nebraska butterflies are only partially known,” Brust said. “We have a lot of rare butterflies in the state. Unfortunately, we don’t know that much about them because there are so few specialists in the state.”
Brust elaborated on various rare Nebraska butterflies, including the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia), Tawny Crescent (Phyciodes batesii), Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta), Large Heath (Coenonympha tullia), and Monarch (Danaus plexippus). Brust said some reasons the rare butterfly species have disappeared are loss of tallgrass prairies, global warming effects, including droughts and fires, deforestation in overwintering grounds, and loss of habitat.
Brust said little is known about Nebraska’s more than 100 rare grasshopper species in general, as he is one of two people who have investigated non-rangeland species of no economic importance in the past 40 years.
He said an emphasis has always been on grasshoppers’ economic and rangeland damage, creating a stigma.
“It was very hard to convince Game and Parks to put any on the working list because the majority of the public looks at them as having negative impacts,” Brust said.
—Kelsey R. Brummels, College Relations