Photos thanks to Tom Murray

Butterflies of the Sierra Nevada

General Description:

The Sierra Nevada is rich in butterflies, and the Yuba Pass area is no exception. As many as 70 species of butterflies may be found on a single day by visiting 3 or 4 locations in a sequence of elevations. More than 100 species of butterflies have been located from the lower elevations near Camptonville over the pass to near Graeagle, including the campus itself. We will see swallowtails, parnassians, many kinds of blues, fritillaries, and skippers. see Butterfly List

We will study the diversity, identification, ecology, and life history of the area's butterflies in several elevational habitats including peaks, flowery meadows, extensive marshland, east side sagebrush, and, possibly, a carnivorous plant bog. The instructors will use non-lethal means to study the butterflies, including netting, placing live butterflies in small containers, followed by their release; observation with close-focusing binoculars; and close-up photography. The goal will be for you to familiarize yourself with the butterfly species seen during class trips and to learn about butterflies of different families and to understand their behavior and ecological place in the environment. You should be able to stalk and study butterflies as well as to take recognizable photos.

Morning and evening slide talks will supplement the course by including topics such as introduction to butterflies, local butterfly identification, western endangered species conservation, Monarch life history and tagging studies, as well as moth diversity and biology.

We will take short hikes, but on one or two days they may be a bit rigorous. Many of our trips are on Forest Service roads, and participants may be asked to drive or car-pool. We’ll have a morning illustrated lecture, go afield and eat our bag lunch out in nature, and return to camp in the afternoon before dinner. Our class will end at midday on Friday.


Dr. Paul Opler and Evi Buckner

Paul A. Opler is an internationally known entomologist and conservationist. He has authored more than 150 articles and 6 books including the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies, Peterson Field Guide to Western Butterflies, Peterson First Guide to Butterflies and Moths, Butterflies East and West , a coloring and activity book on butterflies of National Parks and refuges, and videos about Butterfly Gardening and Butterflies for Beginners. Paul and his wife Evi bring a wealth of experience and knowledge, enthusiasm and artistry to each class. Their butterfly and moth images can also be seen at the Butterflies and Moths of North America website and the Children' Butterfly Site.

Class Schedule

The class will meet at 9:00 AM on Monday, but at 8:00 AM Tuesday through Friday.


Supplies and Other Useful Items


Close focusing binoculars (6-9 feet), digital camera or smartphone with imaging capability, notebook, pens, day pack with lunch, water bottle or canteen, sturdy shoes or  hiking boots, wide-brimmed hat,  sunscreen, repellent. Be ready for inclement weather!

Camping gear


Although days are generally warm, or even hot at lower elevations, be prepared for temperatures as low as freezing at night. Variable weather clothing that may be layered is best. Long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, warm sweater and jacket, t-shirt and shorts or skirt, tennis shoes or hiking boots, sun hat, rain gear, and a warm hat or gloves for cold weather or night activities. Old sneakers, rubber boots, or hip-waders may come in handy for marsh prowling.


  • day pack
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellant
  • alarm clock
  • water bottles
  • Lunch fixings will be set out each morning for us, so it is nice to have a sturdy plastic container for your sandwich.
  • Suggested Reading

    • Kaufman Focus Guide, Butterflies of North America,2003, by Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman. Order at Amazon
    • The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. John Muir Laws. Heyday Books. A richly illustrated guide to a full range of Sierra plants, animals, fungi, and more. Order at HeyDay Books

    The names used will be based on the above two books. The instructor will have copies of Brock and Kaufman as well as other books and videos for purchase.

    Optional Grades

    Anyone may audit the course or take it credit/no credit. If you need a grade it will be based on your field notes, active attendance, and a short paper will be required.

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