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Pandemic boom in Greater Victoria park use translates to better insect understanding

University of Victoria entymologist pleased with shift in thinking
A butterfly alights on flowers in an urban Saanich garden. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Even in the wild the biggest and brightest tend to draw the most attention.

While COVID-19 restrictions were at their most stringent, people were out walking and enjoying outdoor spaces. Communities reported a significant uptick in park use and the citizen scientist program iNaturalist saw a boost during those restrictions, which continues as they ease. The app helps users identify plants and animals while crowdsourcing biodiversity data.

Bugs are always popular for those snapping a photo to score an ID. The big guys always get the attention – butterflies, dragonflies, moths – according to University of Victoria entomologist Neville Winchester.

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It’s all about size and colour.

But he can’t nail down the most spotted, there are simply too many insects, and too many opportunities across a variety of habitats.

“It wouldn’t be unusual to go into anyone’s back yard and find a new species,” Winchester said.

There are some spectacular specimens to be on the lookout for as many insects got through their life cycles June through August.

The region is home to several threatened, and one endangered, species of butterfly. It’s just one reason areas with flowering plants will always be a necessary habitat. He always recommends native plants for landscaping, to attract and retain the native butterfly population.

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But each habitat has its own allure.

In somewhere such as the Panama Flats in Saanich, ground-dwellers and semi-aquatic insects are abundant.

“Bogs are biodiversity hotspots,” Winchester notes. “There’s a whole set of beetles that do well in the urban environment.”

Winchester shifted to having his students go out in the world and use cameras and their eyeballs right at the start of the pandemic. And even as COVID-19 measures fade out, the image-based projects all continue. He expects it will be a legacy in his classes. He’ll continue the practice, as it changes the perspective of the student. Similarly, the outdoor experience and boost of apps such as iNaturalist can help shift mindset and perspective of the average citizen.

It encourages someone to identify, but Winchester noted, beyond that they want to learn about the insect, what it’s doing and what it needs to survive and thrive.

Visit to learn more about the app.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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