This July, visitors are invited to see the only population of rare regal fritillary butterflies in Pennsylvania at Fort Indiantown Gap, near Annville, Lebanon County.
The free guided 2016 tours will depart promptly at 10 a.m. on July 1, 2, 8 and 9. Those wishing to attend should arrive no later than 9:30 a.m. to fill out necessary paperwork, attend a mandatory safety/orientation briefing and receive driving instructions.
Tours will last approximately three hours, but attendees can leave earlier if needed. Attendees should be prepared to provide vehicle make, model, year and color, along with license plate state/number and insurance carrier information.
Participants must gather at the Fort Indiantown Gap Recreation Center in Building 13-190, located at the intersection of Asher Miner Road, Clement Avenue and Route 443 (GPS coordinates in decimal degrees: North 40.431, West 76.591).
Upon arrival to the installation, “wildlife event” signs will help to direct attendees to the parking area adjacent to the recreation center in the picnic grove where parking attendants will provide additional instructions.
The tours, which have been offered for more than 10 years, allow the public to see this rare butterfly and its associated rare grassland habitat on military training ranges, as well as many other natural wonders on the 17,000-acre military post, which serves as the Pennsylvania National Guard’s headquarters.
Visitors of all ages and abilities are encouraged to bring cameras and binoculars and should wear appropriate clothing and footwear for a nature walk on gravel trails or mowed paths. They should also consider bringing insect repellent, sun screen and other personal comfort items.
Drinking water will be provided. No reservations are required and no rain dates will be scheduled.
The tours also will include information related to current efforts to restore native grassland habitat across Pennsylvania and current efforts to raise regal fritillary caterpillars from eggs in a lab with support from the PA Wild Resource Conservation Program and in partnership with ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park and Temple University.
The ultimate goal is to return the regal fritillary to areas where they were located historically.
“Our annual tours allow the public to witness up close some of the natural marvels that can be found on Fort Indiantown Gap’s ranges and observe the direct connection between 80 plus years of military training and the rare grassland habitat that the regal requires,” said Col. Robert Hepner, garrison commander. “Last year we were the busiest National Guard training site in the nation and trained four times more soldiers on a per acre basis than sites exceeding 50,000 acres. It is no surprise to me that we have increased the amount of training and number of butterflies over the past 15 years.”
The regal fritillary is just one of the many rare species that can be found here and is the official symbol for the PA Natural Heritage Program.
Fort Indiantown Gap also provides a wide variety of habitats for 40 species of mammals, 143 breeding species of birds, 36 species of reptiles and amphibians, 27 species of fish, more than 800 species of plants and many notable species of invertebrates to include 86 species of butterflies and 386 species of moths.
Fort Indiantown Gap also provides habitat for more than 100 species of conservation concern in Pennsylvania.
The majority of species of conservation concern in Pennsylvania require early- successional habitat like grasslands, thickets, shrub lands and young forests. This type of habitat is found at Fort Indiantown Gap—due to fires and disturbance—from years of military training that created and maintained 1,000 acres of scrub oak and pitch pine barrens and over 4,500 acres of native grassland habitat–the largest in the state.
Fort Indiantown Gap is the only live-fire, maneuver military training facility in Pennsylvania. It balances one of the region’s most ecologically diverse areas with a military mission that annually supports 19,000 Pennsylvania National Guard personnel and more than 130,000 other states’ guard, military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel each year.For more information about the tours or the regal fritillary butterfly, visit the Fort Indiantown Gap Butterfly Tours webpage. General inquiries about the tour can be sent by email to: RA-DMVA-Wildlife@pa.gov or call 717-861-2449.