North American Butterfly Association

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) manages three independent monitoring programs. This includes the Seasonal Count Program, the largest volunteer-based butterfly monitoring program in existence, covering all the US, parts of Canada, and even some limited sites in Mexico. It is also the program with standardized survey protocols that has been running the longest (even compared to the UK!). The program was started by the Xerces Society in 1975, and patterned after the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Counts. It was taken over by NABA in 1992 where it grew rapidly. Now, each year around 450-500 circles with a diameter of 25km are surveyed by groups of volunteers and all butterflies observed within a single day are counted. Traditionally, count circles were surveyed once per year, but in 2009, groups were encouraged to survey once in spring, summer, and fall. That is why the program, formerly known as the July 4th counts, is now known as the Seasonal Counts. Most of the information on this page refers to the Seasonal Count Program, but we also include information on NABA's other two monitoring programs: their Sightings Database (initiated in 2001) and Butterflies I've Seen, a platform to manage personal sightings records (initiated in 1998)

Monitoring Activity Tracker


Coordinator: Glassberg, Jeffrey
Program Started: 1975
Institution Type: NGO
Data Availability: Contact NABA to make a formal data request
Species Focus: All butterfly species
Contact: Jeffrey Glassberg (


Protocol Type: Open search, Count, Field trip, Opportunistic
Data Type(s): Presence/absence, Abundance
Survey Focus: Adults
Incidental Data Collected: Weather, Habitat notes
Visit Frequency: Seasonal
Effort Tracking: For the Seasonal Counts, the number of hours each party spends searching for butterflies are added together to arrive at a total number of party-hours. Effort is not tracked for additional programs.
Protocol Notes: For the Seasonal Counts, a count leader establishes a count circle (25km diameter) and asks volunteers to fan out and cover as much of the circle as possible in a single day. Volunteers work within multiple parties and all butterflies observed are counted. Butterflies I've Seen and Recent Sightings are more opportunistic, with members reporting butterflies either as observed or part of a field trip.
Taxonomic Standard: Modified NABA

Program Results

Research Spotlight:

NABA Research SpotlightMeehan, T. D., J. Glassberg, and C. Gratton. 2013. Butterfly community structure and landscape composition in agricultural landscapes of the central United States. Journal of Insect Conservation 17:411-419. This study shows the impact of different land-use practices on butterfly communities in the agriculturally-intensive Midwest. The authors used 66 NABA count sites to examine patterns of richness during 2008 and 2009. Landscape-level butterfly species richness (based on rarefaction estimates) was highest in agricultural landscapes with relatively low amounts of cropland, relatively high amounts of woodland, and intermediate amounts of grassland and wetland. This is shown on the top figure on the right (a) which displays the results of an ordination that relate species richness and butterfly community structure to different landscape configurations. Each point represents a count circle, and points closer to each other in ordination space have more similar communities. The size of the circle indicates species richness. The arrows show how the position is related to habitat cover. Unlike other land cover types, urban development had a consistent negative effect on rarefied richness. Butterfly community structure (based on relative abundance) was also significantly related to the amount of cropland, woodland, grassland, and wetland in the landscape. The bottom figure (b) shows how different species drive community patterns (the location of the species name relates to its dominance in the communities represented in the top graph. The rarest butterfly species (in grey) were associated with woodland-, grassland-, and wetland-dominated landscapes, likely due to their association with plant species occurring in savannahs, prairies, and marshes, respectively. Assuming that variation across space reflects changes over time, these results support conclusions from previous studies that removal of natural and seminatural habitats alters butterfly community structure and decreases species diversity in agricultural landscapes.


Inamine, H., S.P Ellner, J.P. Spring, and A.A. Agrawal. 2016. Linking the continental migratory cycle of the monarch butterfly to understand its population decline.  Oikos (Online Early).

Ries, L., Taron, D.J., Rendon-Salinas, E.  2015 Online Early. The Disconnect Between Summer and Winter Monarch Trends for the Eastern Migratory Population: Possible Links to Differing Drivers. Annals of the Entomological Society.

Ries, L., K. Oberhauser, D. Taron, E. Rendon-Salinas. 2015. Connecting eastern monarch population dynamics across their migratory cycle. In (K. Oberhauser, ed.) Monarchs in a changing world: Biology and conservation of an iconic insect. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY.

Meehan, T. D., J. Glassberg, and C. Gratton. 2013. Butterfly community structure and landscape composition in agricultural landscapes of the central United States. Journal of Insect Conservation 17:411-419.

White, E. P., K. M. Thibault, and X. Xiao. 2012. Characterizing species abundance distributions across taxa and ecosystems using a simple maximum entropy model. Ecology 93:1772-1778.

Matteson, K. C., D. J. Taron, and E. S. Minor 2012. Assessing citizen contributions to butterfly monitoring in two large cities. Conservation Biology 26: 557-564

O'Brien, J. M., J. H. Thorne, M. L. Rosenzweig, and A. M. Shapiro. 2011. Once-yearly sampling for the detection of trends in biodiversity: The case of Willow Slough, California. Biological Conservation 144:2012-2019.

Buckley, L B., M.C. Urban, M.J. Angilletta, L.G. Crozier, L.J. Rissler, M.W. Sears. 2010. Can mechanism inform species' distribution models? Ecology Letters 13:1041-1054.

Ries, L., and S. P. Mullen. 2008. A rare model limits the distribution of its more common mimic: A twist on frequency-dependent Batesian mimicry. Evolution 62:1798-1803.

Woods, J.N., J. Wilson, J. R. Runkle. 2008. Influences of climate on butterfly community and population dynamics in western Ohio. Environmental Entomology 37:696-706.

Koenig, W. D. 2006. Spatial synchrony of monarch butterflies. American Midland Naturalist 155:39-49.

White, P., and J. T. Kerr. 2006. Contrasting spatial and temporal global change impacts on butterfly species richness during the 20th century. Ecography 29:908-918.

Vandenbosch, R. 2003. Fluctuations of Vanessa cardui butterfly abundance with El Niño and Pacific Decadal Oscillation climatic variables. Global Change Biology 9: 785–790.

Kocher, S. D., and E. H. Williams. 2000. The diversity and abundance of North American butterflies vary with habitat disturbance and geography. Journal of Biogeography 27:785-794.

Swengel, A. B. 1995. Population Fluctuations of the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) in the 4th of July butterfly count 1977-1994. American Midland Naturalist 134:205-214.

Swengel, A. B. 1990. Monitoring butterfly populations using the Fourth of July Butterfly Count. American Midland Naturalist 124:395-406.