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JoAnna Lou
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Sniffing Out Endangered Species
Dogs trained to find elusive flowers and butterflies
Can you imagine finding a one-inch wide butterfly in this field?

Earlier this year I wrote about dogs trained to find animal droppings for environmental research. More and more canines are being used to help scientists study endangered species and habitat loss. The role of the dog in this type of research is incredible.

The preservation of two species in Oregon can thank a Belgian Sheepdog named Rogue and his highly sensitive nose. Rogue is trained to seek out a rare plant called the Kincaid's lupine. Not only is this plant endangered, but it happens to be the one place where the elusive Fender's blue butterfly lays its eggs.

The one-inch wide butterfly lays one egg at a time, on the back of a Kincaid's lupine leaf. Each egg is no larger than the head of a pin. On top of that, the Kincaid's lupine's peak flowering period is only two weeks long. So as you can imagine, they're near impossible to find.

When Greg Fitzpatrick, Corvallis Land Steward for the Nature Conservatory in Oregon, read about using dogs to track rare turtles, he knew the working canines could be the key to helping the Kincaid's lupine and the Fender's blue butterfly. Fitzpatrick approached Dave Vesely, the executive director of the Oregon Wildlife Institute, and Debbie Smith of the Working Dogs for Conservation Foundation with his idea.

They soon discovered that dogs were incredible at the job. While some humans can detect the odor of lupine when they are flowering, canines can find the plants with or without flowers, and can cover an impressive area of land in a little amount of time.

Vesely plans to submit details of their work to a journal of conservation biology to share the program's success.

 

 

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Alice Whitelaw/Working Dogs for Conservation Foundation.

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