DAVIS, Okla. (KFOR) – Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company (OG&E) says a gathering of rare caterpillars were recently observed at one of its solar farms in Davis.
During a survey of state roadways, an eagle-eyed University of Oklahoma student working with the Oklahoma Frosted Elfin Project spotted some yellow wild indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) as they drove past the grounds of OG&E’s solar farm in Davis, Okla.
Much like milkweed supports the lifecycle of monarch butterflies, wild indigo is a critical host plant for the rare frosted elfin butterfly during its caterpillar phase.
Upon discovery of the yellow wild indigo, OG&E partnered with the Oklahoma Frosted Elfin Survey Team to conduct a species survey of the frosted elfin at the Davis OG&E solar farm.
“We were thrilled to learn that the OG&E pollinator habitat on our solar farm was growing such an important plant to a butterfly whose population is in decline,” said Jeff Everett, Environmental Regulatory Manager for OG&E. “That’s a great example of why we focus on these efforts.”
During the assessment, the team observed the bright yellow frosted elfin caterpillars feasting on wild indigo, as well as monarch caterpillars on milkweed.
“Being able to access and study the frosted elfin population and its habitat on OG&E’s solar farm increases our knowledge of the butterfly in Oklahoma and aids in efforts to reverse its decline,” said Brenda D. Smith, the Frosted Elfin Project Survey Team Coordinator at the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory. “We’re grateful to OG&E for prioritizing conservation and protection of vulnerable species and look forward to monitoring the solar farm population.”
A lesser-known pollinator generally found in the northeastern United States, the frosted elfin butterfly’s population has been in decline in recent years.
At first glance, these butterflies look similar to a common moth, as they are typically brown or dark gray in color. However, the whitish scales on their hindwings give them a unique frosted appearance, making them easier to identify.
Unfortunately, natural habitats hosting these plants have been depleted severely over the past few years, contributing to a steady decline in frosted elfin butterfly numbers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been studying the frosted elfin to help restore the habitats necessary for the butterfly population to thrive.
OG&E has designated portions of the company’s land as butterfly waystations – intentionally managed land that provides food and habitat for pollinator populations.
“As a significant landowner in our service territories, we are committed to protecting and preserving the natural habitats and the wildlife that call these environments home,” said Everett. “It’s gratifying to know that our partnership with state and federal wildlife agencies and commitment to environmental conservation is positively impacting important pollinators like the frosted elfin and monarch butterflies.”
Over the last four years, the electric company has planted 30 acres of pollinator habitats with another 30 acres on the way, the company says.