Caterpillars Count! is a project that relies on citizen scientists (you!) to help understand some of the most important organisms in our ecosystems--caterpillars and other insects--by conducting surveys of the plants and trees around them.
WHY? Insects and other arthropods are an important food source for birds and other wildlife, and they have economic and environmental impacts on our forests and crops. In some regions, the timing of spring has been coming earlier. Are insects emerging earlier as well? This information can also help us to understand whether migratory birds are migrating earlier enough to take advantage of those important food resources which they count on for successfully raising their young.
WHERE? Caterpillars Count! sites are typically at established locations such as schools, environmental education centers, bird banding stations, and other places that are likely to have a large potential visitor or participant pool. See the list at right for currently active sites. We are actively looking for partners to start new sites.
WHO? The standardized survey protocol is most suitable for those middle school-aged and older. We have developed several learning activities including open-ended research related questions using our data visualization tools. Participation in Caterpillars Count! could form the basis for high school or undergraduate summer research projects, but will be enjoyable for any adults interested in caterpillars, insects, or natural history in general.
WHAT? Foliage arthropods are surveyed using either visual surveys of a fixed branch area, or by whacking a branch over a "beat sheet." Ideally a participating site has 10-40 survey branches; 20 surveys could be completed by a group of 4-5 people in less than 30 minutes. Ideally, sites are surveyed every week or two over the late spring and summer. Participants only need to learn to identify arthropods to Order (beetle, fly, caterpillar, etc), but photos submitted through our app (see below) automatically get sent to iNaturalist.org to be identified by experts.
WHEN? Surveys can be done as long as there is foliage to survey, and ideally surveys are carried out every week or two throughout the spring and summer to capture seasonal dynamics during the avian breeding season.
YES, I'M INTERESTED! WHAT NEXT? Take a look around the project website including our Frequently Asked Questions page. You may also want to
- Find a participating Caterpillars Count! site near you and help conduct some surveys. Refer to the list at right, as well as this page for an interactive map of existing Caterpillars Count! locations, and documents on this page for details about our survey protocol.
- Explore the data recorded by our participants both via the interactive map and data visualization tools, as well as through our specially designed learning activities for students and environmental education groups.
- If you are interested in starting up a new Caterpillars Count! site, read over the FAQ page and then feel free to contact us! Environmental Education centers, schools, botanical gardens, and other sites that receive many visitors interested in nature are the perfect places to start a long-term monitoring project!
- Note that all of the materials from our Environmental Educator's workshop are available on the Participate page as are several videos ( Part 1; Part 2; Part 3) of our educators' workshop at the NC Botanical Garden.