Alabama is hiding what might be the largest population of Mitchell's satyr butterflies in the world. But scientists only learned of their existence in the Yellowhammer State by accident.
Mitchell's satyr butterflies are both rare and endangered, and before 2000 they were only known to be living in a handful of wetland areas in Michigan and North Carolina.
But that all changed when Dr. Jane Vicroy Scott and her husband Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, visited Marion in 2000. They were in town so Scott could give the commencement address at Judson College, and decided, pretty much on a whim, to stop in the Talladega National Forest to look for butterflies.
It was Scott who spotted an unusual looking butterfly and called out to Glassberg. It was small and brown, and its wings were dotted with rows of round, yellow-ringed eyespots. She told him that she thought it was a Mitchell's satyr, but her husband was incredulous.
"But I look at it and take a photo and it is, in fact, Mitchell’s satyr, which is pretty amazing,” Glassberg recalled to AL.com.
In the years that followed, colonies of the elusive butterfly have been spotted in other areas throughout the Talladega National Forest and in parts of northeast Mississippi.
Mitchell's satyr butterflies inhabit beaver-impacted wetlands and prefer to live in the damp recesses of densely wooded swamps—places, Glassberg told Southern Living, where people don’t usually go looking for butterflies.
They’d been there all along, he explained, we just had no idea.
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Unfortunately, Alabama’s only endangered butterfly species is in peril. Human development hurts beaver populations which leads to habitat loss for the Mitchell's satyr.
If you would like to catch a glimpse of this rare creature, Glassberg recommends trying the roads that cut through the swamps in Talladega National Forest. “You might get lucky,” he says. But don’t go stomping through the deep swamps: those areas are delicate and vital to the ecosystem and should be protected as such.