UFB Butterfly Project

What are UFBs

Uncompahgre Fritillary Butterflies, or UFBs, are an endangered species of butterfly discovered in 1978. They are only known to live in 11 locations in the world and all of them are in the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado. The largest colony is only the size of a football field. UFBs are fragile creatures. They only live on Snow Willow, a low growing plant found on north-facing slopes above 12,000 feet. UFBs fly for about six weeks each summer and only when the sun shines. Even then, they fly like they’re drunk, not more than a few feet above the ground. They are also difficult to identify due to looking similar to several other species.

About the Project

Since UFBs (the most recently discovered butterfly in the US) were discovered on Uncompahgre Peak, a group based out of Lake City, Colorado has been studying them and looking for new colonies. The goal of the project is to record their survival and look for the impacts of climate change on their population. In a few locations, researchers do frequent counts for population studies. In others, they only record occupancy data.

What We Did

My parents volunteered with this project in 2000. They enjoyed it so much they brought my sister and me to help out in the summer of 2015. We spent our time backpacking into UFB sites and climbing two fourteeners. To reach the UFB sites, we would backpack to treeline and set up camp. The next morning, we would wake up at dawn and climb to the peak, bushwhacking most of the way - these peaks don't have trails. The key to finding UFBs is reaching the colony early in the morning before the clouds move in, as they need sunshine to warm themselves enough to fly. When on site, we identified as many UFBs as possible before being chased off the mountain by afternoon lightning storms.