Colorful, graceful, and even a bit mystical, butterflies are arguably one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet. They are subjects of stories, songs, visual art, and even spiritual accounts. But, these winged beings don’t exist just to grab our attention with their vibrant colors.
Like all living things, butterflies are essential to our ecosystems. When the numbers of butterflies and moths change, it tells a story about the health of our environment. So, you may be asking, why exactly do we need butterflies? And, if they are threatened, what are the causes?
1. A butterfly’s role—Areas filled with butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates benefit with pollination and natural pest control. Butterflies and moths are also an important part of the food chain, providing food for birds, bats, and other animals.
2. Fragility—As would be expected, butterflies are delicate animals, and therefore sensitive to change. When they struggle to survive it is a warning about the health of our environment.
3. Shifting temperatures—From a timing perspective, butterflies are emerging earlier than in the past, and if they emerge too early, they could encounter frost and die; likewise they could emerge in early spring before plant sources are available and they could starve.
4. Storms—Severe weather is causing millions of butterflies to die. The cold and wetness from these extreme storms can be very threatening to butterflies.
5. Habitat loss—Butterfly habitats are being destroyed on a massive scale worldwide. In North America, much research is being conducted on monarchs, which are at risk due to milkweed loss. Milkweed is disappearing rapidly because of urbanization, industrialization, and the widespread use of herbicides. Female monarchs use milkweed to lay their eggs on. When they hatch the larvae and caterpillars feed on the milkweed’s leaves.
6. Deforestation—Monarch research also tells us that these butterflies depend on evergreen trees to shade out the sunlight and provide vital roosting space for rest, warmth, and protection.
7. Intervention—Fortunately, awareness is rising, especially regarding the decline of monarchs. During a February meeting, President Barack Obama, Mexico's President Peña Nieto, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to a taskforce on monarch conservation. The film “Flight of the Butterflies” and other recent media coverage is bringing much-needed attention to the issue.
8. What you can do—Start planting! If you want to plant milkweed for butterflies to lay their eggs, or nectar-producing plants that will help adult butterflies, check www.flightofthebutterflies.com or other websites to see which type of milkweed is right for your area. Ask your local garden center for help finding butterfly plants that will flourish in your region. You can plant a butterfly garden with very little space, even in a window box. Some websites allow you to track butterflies which will help scientists measure changes in populations.
More ways to get involved and engage kids:
Butterflies and climate change from University of York:
National Geographic Kids—Monarch video:
Adopt a monarch:
Free butterfly coloring pages:
The Creatures Division wants to THANK EVERYONE who has helped us over the past few months get the word out about how important pollinators are, and how it's #Time4TheTalk! We still have a lot to discuss with you- so stay tuned! Here are a few tweets you can use to help #ISF get the word out:
Honeybees make long distance relationships work. They'll travel up to 5mi to feed on nectar & gather pollen! #Time4theTalk #ISF
Honeybees play the field, visiting 50-1000 flowers during a single collection trip. #Time4theTalk #ISF
Birds go for looks. Plants that use birds as pollinators typically have bright red, orange or yellow flowers! #Time4theTalk #ISF
Bumblebees know how to work smarter. Scent marking flowers to let others know the nectar is gone. #Time4theTalk #ISF
Want some breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Pick 2. Because bees pollinate 1/3 of the food you eat. 2 meals without honey bees! #Time4theTalk #ISF
Get batty! Did you know even bats help with pollination?! #Time4theTalk #ISF
Monarchs pollinate but need milk! Well, milkweed that is! #Time4theTalk #ISF
Save the planet, Save our Pollinators! #Time4theTalk #ISF
Go ahead, Google what Einstein said will happen if we lose honey bees… #Time4theTalk #ISF
Have YOU had the Talk? #Time4theTalk #ISF
Help decrease world hunger by making harvests better with happy pollinators! #Time4theTalk #ISF
--By Elaine DeSimone