UW entomologist hopes 'butterfly bill' flies in Wyoming Legislature
Professor Scott Shaw, an entomologist in the University of Wyoming's College of Agriculture, supports designating the Sheridan's green hairstreak butterfly as the "state butterfly" of Wyoming.
"This lovely insect is distinctive, being one of the few green butterflies in our region," Shaw said.
State Sen. Bruce Burns and Rep. Rosie Berger of Sheridan County, along with Rep. Mary Throne of Cheyenne, have sponsored a bill in the Wyoming State Legislature to designate the Sheridan's green hairstreak (Callophrys sheridanii) as the state butterfly.
Selecting a state insect was the idea of third-grade students last school year at Big Horn Elementary School in Sheridan County.
Burns flew with the idea but proposed naming Sheridan's green hairstreak the "state butterfly" instead of "state insect," which would allow other students to research the possibility, for example, of a "state insect."
Burns said, "Rep. Throne joined Rosie and me as a co-sponsor because she is the mother of three and believes the bill will spark the interest of her children and other students in the legislative process, and she intends to bring her children to the meeting when the bill is introduced to the committee."
The bill is scheduled to be introduced to the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee at noon Thursday, Jan. 22, in room 302 at the Capitol, said Burns, who chairs the committee for the Senate.
Shaw is scheduled to testify on behalf of the bill's sponsors.
Live streaming will be available to Big Horn Elementary, so students, teachers and others can watch and participate, Burns said.
The Big Horn Elementary student who got the project rolling, Tanner Warder, has since consulted with Shaw on numerous occasions to learn more about Sheridan's green hairstreak.
Invaluable to Warder's research was an article Shaw wrote in the UW College of Agriculture's 2007 Reflections magazine titled "Would a state insect fly in Wyoming?"
Warder said, "I found out that few butterflies in this region are green and that Sheridan's green hairstreak was first discovered in Wyoming and it symbols the arrival of spring."
Shaw noted, "I find the student project very interesting, and I anticipated this would happen in Wyoming (designating a state insect or butterfly) because we're only one of about eight states without a state insect."
In his article, Shaw said his first recommendation for the Wyoming state butterfly would be the Sheridan's green hairstreak.
"It was discovered in 1877 near the location of present-day Sheridan, Wyo. Both the town and the butterfly are named after Lt. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, a famous Civil War commander; however, the butterfly was actually named before the town," Shaw wrote in his Reflections article.
The butterfly occurs widely across Wyoming in mountains and foothills, wherever its primary food source (the sulphur-flower) is found, said Shaw, who, as curator of the UW Insect Museum, estimates Sheridan's green hairstreak is one of at least 12,000 insect species found in Wyoming.
This butterfly species flies from March to June and is the earliest butterfly to emerge from a chrysalis (butterfly pupa) in Wyoming, Shaw said.
"Like the robin in Wyoming and other states, this green butterfly is a symbol of the arrival of spring in Wyoming," wrote Shaw, whose article can be found at www.uwyo.edu/agexpstn/reflections/2007/reflections%202007%20web.pdf.
Warder, now a fourth grader at Big Horn, launched the project for extra credit as part of a program led by third grade teacher Laurie Graves and Big Horn's gifted and talented teacher, Marcia McChesney.
"Every quarter, I provide the opportunity to students for at-home enrichment study for extra credit. This allows students to explore areas beyond which I have time to cover in the classroom," Graves said.
Warder's interest started when he caught a dragonfly in his yard, identified it as the western meadowhawk, and then learned this species is the state insect of Montana.
One thing led to another.
Warder, the son of Karla and Jon Warder of Big Horn, found out through his research how students in Montana had successfully urged the Legislature to pass that state's insect bill.
After learning Wyoming is one of the few states without a state insect, he teamed with fellow student Lydia Mayer, the daughter of JoAnne and Tom Mayer of Big Horn, to change that.
They interviewed Shaw and others, performed research in local libraries and on the Web and polled other Big Horn Elementary students about their favorite insects. They also addressed questions posed by Graves and McChesney, such as: are the insects beneficial and in what ways; are they native species or introduced; and what do they find especially interesting about each species?
Eventually, they narrowed the list down to five finalists--honeybee, seven-spotted ladybug, rubyspot dragonfly, anicia checkerspot butterfly and Sheridan's green hairstreak. Shaw stated in his article that his second choice for state insect is the anicia checkerspot, which occurs widely across Wyoming and feeds on flowers including the Indian paintbrush, Wyoming's state flower.
Graves said the two students prepared a PowerPoint presentation and "beautiful" demonstration boards containing information about the five finalists and, once again, they took their project to other Big Horn students for input.
After the final votes were in, Warder and Mayer presented their proposal to the Sheridan County School District 1 Board and started networking with legislators, including making a presentation at a county legislative forum at Sheridan College.
Again, one thing led to another.
"We eventually took 28 third graders to last year's session of the Wyoming State Legislature," Graves said. "They toured the Capitol, watched the legislature in action and were acknowledged in both the House and Senate, learned how bills go through the process and talked to lobbyists. Some of them even met Gov. Dave Freudenthal."
Graves praised the efforts of Shaw.
"He really helped Tanner and his mother in many ways, including the knowledge he shared about Sheridan's green hairstreak," she said.
Shaw noted, "This particular insect has historical significance that relates directly to the state of Wyoming, and having a state butterfly has long-term benefits to tourism, advertising and marketing."
Plus, he emphasized, "Insects are among the most ecologically important organisms on this planet, and designating insects as state symbols provides opportunities for students to learn something interesting about nature."
Tanner pointed out an added benefit: "We also learned how the legislature works and how bills are processed. This has been a very exciting project."
The "butterfly bill," which it has become informally known, is Senate File 16. For more information and to track the bill, go to http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2009/Bills.htm.