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Allison Barta’s butterfly count nears completion

The Baltimore checkerspot is named after the black and orange colors worn by Lord Baltimore. Eating turtlehead plants during the caterpillar stage makes this butterfly taste unpleasant to predators. The butterfly can usually be seen between June 15 and August 7. Photo Courtesy Allison Barta 1 / 2
Allison Barta2 / 2

BEMIDJI — After spending more than 680 hours searching the terrain of Northern Minnesota for the 88 native butterflies in the Cass Lake and Beltrami county areas, Allison Barta’s quest is nearing an end, with seven species left to track down.

Barta, who’s searching expedition began last spring as a small hobby, has expanded into a massive research project that has been recognized on a national level, with publication of her photographs and articles in the Butterfly Gardener magazine among her most notable accomplishments.

"It has not only made me realize what I haven’t been seeing in the past, but made people aware we have these precious things," she said, adding that until her butterfly hunt, it was believed by state lepidopterists there were only 86 existing butterfly species in the area.

Barta also holds the title of having the most journals published in the National Lepidopterist Society’s 2011 Season Summary with more than 60 entries, far exceeding any other lepidopterist’s entries in the state.

"I’ve strived to teach people how important the butterflies are to us," said Barta, explaining butterflies play a vital role in the pollination and food process. "We need to enjoy them with our eyes and cameras and share those photos with others instead of killing and collecting them."

For the past two summers, Barta has been giving free butterfly presentations at area state parks, where she shares her knowledge and experiences with butterflies with an accompanying slideshow of her photographs.

Scheduled presentations this summer that will focus on her hunt for the final seven species and a butterfly hunt afterward include:

-- June 8: Lake Bemidji State Park

-- June 15: Big Bog State Park

-- June 22: Scenic State Park

-- June 29: Maplewood State Park

-- July 6: Zippel Bay State Park

"You never come up empty-handed," she said of her expeditions. "Even if I don’t find a butterfly, I always see something."

Barta’s search for the final seven species has already begun, and will continue through the first part of August, when the last two species are expected to surface.

With the help of her son Brian, a computer science major at Bemidji State University, she has created a poster showcasing her butterfly finds to date. Posters are available for purchase at Bemidji Woolen Mills and the Headwater Science Center.

After she completes her search, Barta said she is unsure about the future, but is certain she will continue her hobby of discovery, possibly choosing to chase moths in the area for her next adventure.

"I thought about writing a book about going on these butterfly hunts, as I write down everything I see," she said. "I have all these ideas, I just don’t know yet."