Human Elements: Dog detectives are helping endangered butterflies

On the Oregon coast, Rogue Detection Teams recruit four-legged friends to sniff out silverspot larvae.

A group of four-legged scientists and their wet noses are on the hunt for endangered butterfly larvae.

They’re led by Jennifer Hartman, founder of Rogue Detection Teams a group of researchers, citizen scientists and dogs who help gather data on endangered species.

Dogs have over 300 million olfactory receptors compared to humans’ roughly 6 million. This allows them to see or, rather, smell the world from an entirely new perspective. “It just looks like we're hiking in the woods with the dogs. But what they don't realize is there's an entire undercurrent of communication happening,” Hartman says.

The project the dogs are working on now, as Hartman leads them bounding over the prairies of Oregon’s central coast, is detecting the larvae of the Oregon silverspot butterfly, a species whose range is shrinking because of habitat loss. 

“If we can find the larvae before they release the adults, then we can know whether or not that population is in fact, you know, breeding and recovering from all of these other efforts that are going into their recovery,” Hartman says.

Most of the Rogue Detection Teams’ dogs come from shelters and backgrounds where they were unwanted. For Hartman the real secret to the success of these projects is her bond with them giving them a part of her heart. “Only in that way, then, have we been able to make some really incredible discoveries together,” she says.


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