It’s not every day that a new species is found in our midst, but thanks to a little diligence from an employee of The Nature Conservancy by the name of Merrill Lynch, a breeding colony of the Olympia Marble butterfly (Euchloe olympia) has been found here, far from its usual home in the prairies of the central United States.
Lynch, who runs the Conservancy’s office in Boone, went searching for the Olympia Marble after hearing that a colony had recently been discovered in Tennessee. His search was based on a bit of detective work. “I did some research on its habitat and preferred food plants and started thinking about places in North Carolina where it might occur,” Lynch explains. Based on his knowledge of plant distribution in the mountains, “I zeroed in on a particular area in Madison County that I thought had potential.”
He and fellow biologist Kevin Caldwell found a colony of the butterflies in Madison County, but the Conservancy is not revealing the exact location for fear that collectors will pursue the rare find.
“We drove into the area that fit this description and at our first stop we were looking at an Olympia Marble nectaring on the roadside,” he says. “I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get a picture, knowing that the discovery was significant and there would be questions.” He wasn’t successful with the camera, but Caldwell did get confirmation photos a few days later.
The Olympic Marble is named for the golden marbling on its under wings. “It is a very distinctive butterfly and it occurs in a unique habitat that is very rare in the state,” explains Lynch.
Photo by Kevin Caldwell