Climate Change Hurts Butterflies, Too

Written by Judith A. Ross

A butterfly’s transformation — from minuscule egg, to chubby caterpillar, to pod-like chrysalis and finally into an intricately decorated, delicately winged creature — strikes the perfect balance between magic and science.

My introduction to the more scientific aspects of a butterfly’s life cycle came at the age of eight, when as a budding naturalist, I attended a day camp at the local Audubon sanctuary. Our counselors taught us about a program to band monarch butterflies in order to track their yearly journey from our northern environs in Massachusetts down south through Texas and into Mexico.

As an adult, I remain enchanted by butterflies’ mystical beauty, while also assisting with their more earthly needs by including butterfly-friendly plants in my garden.

But no matter how otherworldly they may appear, and in spite of efforts like mine to encourage their propagation, even butterflies are not exempt from the effects of climate change.

Atlantis Fritillary Photo: Barbara Spencer, West Cummington

A study examining the butterfly population in Massachusetts, published this month in Nature Climate Change, has shown that protective habitats alone aren’t enough to keep some butterfly species in the Bay State.

Based on data collected between 1992 and 2010 by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club, the study shows that over the past 19 years, a warming climate has altered the state’s butterfly communities.

So while I may be seeing more subtropical and warm-climate butterfly species, such as the giant swallowtail and the zabulon skipper around my Massachusetts home, more than three-quarters of northerly species are in sharp decline. According to the study, those that over-winter as eggs or small larvae seem especially vulnerable to what has become a warmer, dryer climate with less snow cover.

Greg Breed, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, recently told the Harvard Gazette:

For most butterfly species, climate change seems to be a stronger change-agent than habitat loss. Protecting habitat remains a key management strategy, and that may help some butterfly species. However, for many others, habitat protection will not mitigate the impacts of warming.

Atlantis Fritillary Photo: Erik Nielsen Pittsburg, NH

The downside? Populations of species with mythological names like the atlantis and aphrodite fritillaries have declined nearly 90 percent in Massachusetts.

Like birds, butterflies, and all other living things, we humans can’t escape the impact of climate change. Unlike them, however, we are not voiceless. In fact, we can have a strong voice in protecting butterflies and other silent, yet vulnerable populations.

At Moms Clean Air Force we make it easy for engaged citizens to speak up and Take Action.

Tell the presidential candidates to talk about climate change!


Related Stories:

Mutant Fukushima Butterflies Reveal Effects of Radiation

World’s Largest Butterfly Could Disappear Forever

Earth Wavers On The Edge Of Dangerous Tipping Point


Photo credit: Massachusetts Audubon


Yulan Lawson
Yulan Lawson4 years ago

We need our butterflies. No them, no food.
Isaac Bashevis Singer Nobel Peace Prize Winner wrote in his book, 'Enemies a love story', "As often has Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought. In their behaviour toward creatures, all men were Nazi’s. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplify the most extreme racist theories the principle that might is right. Lest we forget!

J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

I suspect no species is unaffected by climate change

Kynthia R.
Kynthia Rosgeal5 years ago

It isn't like we actually OWN this planet. We are just the currently dominant parasite. Time has a way of correcting that.

Laurie Greenberg
Laurie Greenberg5 years ago

The changes in our planet MUST be spoken about and addressed, but don't count on our politicians to do much about them. They are mainly in the pockets of Big Gas and Oil and Coal.

Ann L.
Ann L.5 years ago

I raised,tagged and released 13 Monarch butterflies. Blessings on them in their terrifying migration. I listened to both presidential candidates and their henchmen. Didn't hear ANY OF THEM say anything about the environment,climate change,resource conservation,green policies,wildlife management,fracking,destruction,pollution,soil conservation,------ just greed and aggression......they all scare me.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Never mind what global warming is doing to wildlife. If we fail to mitigate global warming, it will destroy agericulture, which will destroy civilization, and cause 99% of the world population to starve to death. I never had any child. I care about today's babies who will be among the first to be affected by the destruction of agriculture.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright5 years ago

Climate change/global warming hurts EVERYONE, from the most humble of species to the most noble {and I don't mean humans....}.

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson5 years ago

signed petition in hotmail!

Nirvana Jaganath
Nirvana Jaganath5 years ago