Technology has played a vital role in human lives – it makes our lives easier and better to live in. Researchers, inventors, experts, scientists, and hobbyists have relied on technology to advance their studies. With its rapid evolvement, new technology can now help them to gather more data and achieve more accurate results. UAV or drones are now equipped with lightweight cameras to record butterflies on the move! Previously, butterflies were filmed with cameras on a track, or hand-held, now videos can be shot using a camera drone.
For documentation, camera drones or the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been around since early 1900, mostly used for military operations. They had become widely used in the early 2000’s when technology got smaller, cheaper and more effective. Today, scientists and researchers have found ways to expand, develop and redefine their study, thanks to the drone revolution – they are now able to observe a region on a much wider scale.
There is few research tools/equipment used for the study of butterflies in their habitats.:
- Documentation: camera drones – takes your research to the sky and allows you to make videos of butterflies
- Netting to catch and Observation area: butterflies are always moving, with no set pattern, so working in a small confined area makes it easier to observe.
- Measurement: 3D Scanner and GPS Receiver – a high precision measuring instrument capable of surveying surfaces in the most diverse compositions rapidly and with a range of about 300 m, it is suitable for measurement of wide-range terrain and delicate objects
- Analysis: Pollen laboratory – tool for the analysis of a variety of sediment archives concerning their composition of proxies like pollen, spores, so-called Non-Pollen Palynomorphs
Einat Lev, a Lamont assistant research professor, found using drones for her study of volcanoes very helpful. According to her, “The biggest advantage of using drones is that they can take you places that are very difficult to get to. We couldn’t map the structure of the lava flows in Iceland in the interior part of it because it was just too difficult to reach, and the drone just flies above and gets us that data.”
Benefits of drones for researchers and scientist:
- Collects more data quickly
- Resistance against harsh weather, high voltage, and strong magnetic fields
- Reduced environmental effects
- Quiet operations – avoid disruption to wildlife, ruins and other delicate objects and places
- Convenient use – with very simple steps on how to maneuver the device, a beginner can easily control the drones with only about an hour of training
- Intuitive software – planning for automated flights, monitor flights in real time, easily change or repeat missions in the field, and quick analysis of flight data afterward.
- Advanced GPS tracking
UAV’s can be used in a variety of research that requires the aerial collection of data such as archeological research, glacier surveillance, ocean and sea research support, mapping coastal regions, radiation or iceberg monitoring, measuring nuclear contamination, studying biodiversity or capturing the spread of larvae.
Butterflies and their habitats
There are about 17,500 known species of butterflies in the world, about 750 species in the United States and thousands of species in a much wider area in Canada. However, most of these butterflies have become widely endangered. Thus research on the preservation of butterflies has been recently conducted.
Let us identify ourselves with a few butterfly species found in the US and Canada.
Common butterfly family in the US:
Hesperiidae (Skippers) –
Butterflies which name derives from its erratic flight habits. They have antennae that are usually hooked or curved and a different wing venation. Their larvae bore in the stems of yucca and similar plants and usually sold as foods in Mexico or canned products in some gourmet shops in the US
Lycaenidae (Blues and Hairstreaks) –
the second largest family of butterflies with over 6000 species worldwide are normally small, brightly colored with metallic gloss sometimes. This family of butterfly has different sub-species – the most notable are the hairstreaks (which have delicate hairlike extensions on their hind legs), coppers (most notably found in open areas of marshes or meadows), elfins (brownish color butterfly which appear in Spring) and the blues (one of the smallest butterfly species in the US)
Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies) –
considered the largest family in the world, they are also called brush-footed butterflies or four-footed butterflies because they are famous for standing up only on their four legs while the other two are curled up, and in some species, they have a brush-like set of hairs on their forelegs. These butterflies are normally medium-sized to large. Some have colorful wings while others often have dull or in some looks like dead leaves (which is a good characteristic as it helps them blend in with their environment).
Papilionidae (Swallowtails) –
large colorful butterflies with tails on its hindwings, there are less than 30 species of them in the United States with about 600 worldwide. The largest butterfly in the world – Birdwing Butterfly is included in the world.
Swallowtails have distinctive features such as the Osmeterium which normally remains hidden, but when threatened, the larva turns it outward through a transverse dorsal groove by blowing it with fluid. The name swallowtail generated from the forked appearance on their hindwings, which is normally seen when the butterfly is resting with its wings spread.
Pieridae (Whites and Sulphurs and Yellows) –
there are about 1,100 species of these butterflies in the world mostly in tropical Africa and Asia with some varieties found in regions of North America. Most are white, yellow or orange, often with black spots.
The pigments that give distinct coloration their wings are derived from the waste products in their body. The larvae of some its species are notorious agricultural pests – most species exhibit a mud-puddling behavior when they may ingest salt from moist soils.
Riodinidae (Metalmarks) –
a family of metalmarks butterfly due to its small-metallic looking spots normally found on its wings, with only about a dozen species in the United States. They are medium-sized often with vibrant colorings.
Common Butterflies Found in Canada:
Monarch Butterfly from the family Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies) – Best known as the migratory butterfly, largely found in Toronto is among the largest butterflies in Canada. They would normally start arriving in Canada from late May till June staying until September with a few remaining until November.
Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus Calrus) from the family Hesperiidae (Skippers) –
72 of these are found in Canada; these butterflies tend to skip from one place to another with successive rapid and powerful movement.
The Silver-spotted skipper is the largest inhabitant in Canada. They have a wingspan of about 37mm – 45mm and boast pointed forewings for fast flying. They are normally seen in open areas and feed on nectars flowers such as the Canadian thistle, cow vetch, Brazilian verbena and Indian hemp among others.
Recognized as a resident butterfly in Toronto, they can also be found in British Columbia, Quebec, Quebec City, Langton Lake, Manitoba and near Taber in Southern Alberta.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio Glaucus) from the family Papilionidae (Swallowtails) – commonly seen in the Southern Ontario area, these migratory butterflies come in May until end of September.
Male Easter Tiger Swallowtails are mostly yellow and have four black tiger-like stripes on each forewing while females come in two forms: the first is yellow with blue the postcentral area on the upper side of the hindwing and the second variation is the black female form which has darker stripes (sometimes looking as dark gray). The dark swallowtails are quite rare and commonly found at Point Pelee in Southern Ontario.
Mustard White (Pieris Oleracea) from the Family Pieridae –
There about 40 species from the family Pieridae found in Canada, and this type of butterfly is among one of them. They are normally chalky white and come in two forms depending on the season. This is quite common in Canada mostly found in the Rocky Mountain Foothills in Alberta, the western part of Newfoundland and northern and central parts of British Columbia.
Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche Lygdamus) from the Family Lycaenidae –
Typically a small butterfly with a wingspan of 18mm to 28mm, they have a bright and shiny light blue color with gray borders on both wings. This is one of the largest inhabitants of Canada and can be found in every province and territory except in Southwestern Ontario.
In the old days, to spot these butterflies (especially the migratory ones, you have to visit parks, meadows, nature trails or mountains). Surveying and studying these beautiful insects in their natural habitat have become a whole lot easier – less time doing fieldworks traversing the mountains on foot or taking flights in the sky.
Butterflies are extremely sensitive to environmental changes, and for them to survive, it is vital for their larvae to survive in an area.
With the high-resolution photographs captured from camera drones or UAV and wider scope of coverage, gathering information has never been fun and convenient. Using drones, they could identify suitable spots for egg disposition, appropriate microhabitats for larvae growth, and preserving butterflies for ecology.
One researcher said: “The high resolution of just a few centimeters per pixel—made possible by low-altitude overflights—provides information on microhabitat structures over a relatively large area.”
Butterflies are important to their intrinsic value, aesthetics, and educational value (their life cycle has been used as a method of education to teach about the natural world). They are also important in the study of the ecosystem as the appearance of butterflies indicate a healthy environment and ecosystems.
Areas rich in butterflies provide a wide range of environmental benefits including pollination and pest control. They are also important in the element of the food chain and pray for many birds and bats. Their existence has also been used in research by ecologists to study the impact of habitat loss, fragmentation and climate change.
We have discussed earlier the benefits of drone in research and scientific study. There are many UAVs available in the market to assist in the study of butterflies in their natural habitat.
Here are few devices that can be used:
Phantom 4 (from DJI)
The “sexiest drone” that DJI ever designed, the Phantom 4’s magnesium skeleton reduces weight while keeping stiffness at a maximum to lessen vibration. Its new core design offers more power, speed, and features than its previous counterparts. It has multiple flight modes ranging from simplicity to smart navigation depending on your needs. Speed or smooth cinematic movements on this device is also easy.
With its increased 25% flight time, flying far longer using the Phantom 4 is possible. It has multiple sensors, dual GPS and GLONASS navigation, advanced Visual Positioning System (VPS) and an automated subject-tracking and obstacle avoidance. With 3.1 mi (5km) coverage and a live 720p HD view, studying butterflies using this device lets you take high-resolution pictures for highly accurate data analysis.
DJI Mavic Pro
Small yet powerful drone, DJI Mavic Pro is very convenient to transport. With 24 high-performance computing cores, five vision sensors, a 4k camera stabilized by a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, and an all-new transmission system with a range of 4.3 mi (7 km), this device takes you to the sky on a whole new perspective.
With its Return to Home mode, this device could also hit obstacles during long-distance flights or when descending from an inadequate height. It uses Flight Autonomy technology making it sense obstacles up to 49ft away and allows the Mavic to avoid them or brake to hover reducing accidents.
Stabilization is used thus creating smooth videos and sharp images even in high-speed motion. So even with butterflies frantically flying in the area, you can be still able to capture the best quality.
A relatively cheap camera drone, this is equipped with an HD camera (still perfect for capturing high-end images), wind resistance and can be flown indoors or outdoors. It has a 7 minute flight time and performs flips at the press of a single button with 360 degrees aversion. Its 6-axis Gyro stabilization ensures maximum stability and equipped with a colorful flashing light excellent for night flying.
Typhoon H Collision Avoidance Hexacopter – a compact and nimble drone that can fly up to 25 minutes on a single battery charge (best flight time among camera drones available). The Typhoon H is ready to fly out of the box and record videos and shoot pictures.
FAA compliant no-fly zone, six-rotor safety with five rotor fail-safe, and a built-in collision avoidance mechanism, this drone is safe to fly. It comes with an ST16 all-in-one controller, 7 inch Android screen, CG03 and a 4K camera enabling you to create stunning and ultra-high definition videos. It is also easy to transport and has a speedy removal feature (each rotor arm easily folds down from its flight position to a resting mode).
Hubsan H107C+ HD
An incredible value for your money, this camera drone is equipped with 6-axis flight control system, a 720p HD camera and a true direction function that moves the drone in the same direction as the stick.
In conclusion, the use of drones in the research for preserving butterflies in the microhabitats possesses the exciting potential for the future of conservation. The capacity to convert small-scale field observations into a much larger scale will make the habitat preservation more efficient and accurate. Butterfly preservation is essential thus the need to understand their life cycle and impact on the environment accurately.