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The 'secret' lives of butterflies, dragonflies

John Weber can talk about butterflies and dragonflies for hours on end.

He has a "natural attraction and fascination with them" so he loves to share his knowledge and photographs with fellow enthusiasts, or others who are just beginning to learn.

"The more I've learned, the more I've realized there is more to learn," Weber said.

This Sunday, June 13, at 2 p.m., Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge will host Weber, who will take visitors on an adventure of the secret lives of butterflies and dragonflies.

The program will start with Weber presenting some of his slides on a large surface that will only do them justice.

"They have this gigantic wall where I can really show my slides to the best advantage," he said.

After that, participants can experience the little critters in real life on a walk outdoors.

"On the hike, people usually ask, 'oh that's how small they are?!'" Weber said. "There is no way you can tell from the slide show how large or small these flying critters are."

Weber will also be answering many burning questions. He's been participating in butterfly counts for more than 16 years in north central Minnesota and submitting the results to the North American Butterfly Association.

Every year, Weber and a team of helpers conduct butterfly counts in six different areas, each is a 15-mile diameter circle. They're located at Itasca State Park, Deep Portage, Nevis, Cook County near Fertile and the Buffalo River State Park.

Oftentimes, people question the accuracy of his counts.

"A lot of people when they hear that, they say, 'how do you know you're not counting the same ones twice,'" he said. But he moves pretty quickly through those areas and if anything, sometimes the butterflies are undercounted.

On various occasions, the counts total anywhere from 25 to 45 and even up to 3,400, which happened nine years ago.

"That was really quite something -- seeing one butterfly on average every 10 seconds."

There are about 110 different species of butterflies and dragonflies in north central Minnesota, he added, and about 140 in the state all together.

Which makes his hobby even more enjoyable -- to be able to identify those species and talk about their lifespan, migration patterns and lifestyle.

Over the past 12 years, Weber has given at least one presentation at Tamarac a year and others at Itasca State Park.

"It's been a favorite for several years," Tamarac Park Ranger Janice Bengtson said.

The next program he's scheduled to give will be held on July 11 at Itasca State Park.