MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – At the stroke of 3 p.m. Friday, naturalists and volunteers set out with their nets, binoculars, jars and buckets.

Their job: to comb the fields, forests and waterways of the capital city over 24 hours counting all the species they see.

The city’s first 24-hour “bioblitz” is part science, part celebration, part education and part discovery, said organizer Bryan Pfeiffer, of Plainfield.

“We like to think we know about the biological diversity in our state capital, but we are going to find that we don’t have a clue,” he said.

At the starting spot at the North Branch Nature Center, one group walked toward wetlands and a pond in search of reptiles and amphibians.

Other groups searched for birds, flies, dragonflies, butterflies and even tardigrades – microscopic invertebrates commonly called water bears found on lichen, mosses and leaf litter.

The insect collectors didn’t have to wander far. Within 45 minutes they’d gathered at least 20 to 30 species, including an ambush bug and a milk weed long horn beetle.

“There are probably 5,000 different species of insects,” said Gary Hevel, an entomologist, and public information officer for the Smithsonian Institution’s department of entomology.

Sweeping their nets across the fields, they placed their finds in jars to be mounted later.

“Isn’t that like a treasure chest,” said Trish Hanson, an entomologist with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, as she peered into her netful of bugs.

Nearby, in a series of rocks, two 14-year-old boys nabbed a garter snake.

But more surprises will come later.

Malaise traps – netting designed to trap flying insects – were set up in the fields. About 40 pit fall traps – cups buried in holes in the ground – had been placed around the property for insects to walk into.

Some naturalists would be working well into the night.

A bat crew was starting at 9 p.m. and the moth collectors were expected to be at it well past midnight.

The search for fireflies – of which Vermont has about 15 species – also would have to get under way after dark.

Bioblitzes happen all over the world. Typically they’re centered on a park or a protected area. Montpelier’s entails portions of the whole city – from a wetland and a bend in the North Branch of the Winooski River to the Statehouse grounds, National Life’s hilltop property and maybe some backyards.

It’s the first time a state capital ever has been inventoried in a bioblitz like this,” Pfeiffer said.

“We wanted to illustrate how the city, the capital and the merchants are within a place with tremendous biological diversity,” he said.

Organizers hope to keep a running tally of species so when the clock strikes 3 p.m. on Saturday, they can announce preliminary numbers.

“We are going to be surprised and invigorated and exhausted when we’re done,” Pfeiffer said.

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