Where have all the butterflies gone?

I was starting to think maybe I was crazy. But no, my perception seems to be pretty accurate. This spring and summer I have seen almost no butterflies. Practically zero. In fact, I would say less than 20. By this time last year and the previous year and most years before, I would see that many in week depending on my location. In fact, since being back in Missouri and spending lots of time in the garden, seeing 10 – 20 a day is not uncommon with 3-5 species represented in that count. Of course it’s hard to say if one is seeing the same butterfly more than once but it’s still very possible to get an idea if you’re paying attention. Not only are we not seeing the butterflies but also zero caterpillars.

A few seconds of google turned up a whole slew of articles that verify my perception. Here’s the first, Where have all the butterflies gone?:

Wild fluctuations in California’s winter and spring weather have hurt fragile butterfly populations, causing numbers to fall to the lowest in more than three decades and increasing the concerns of scientists about long-term declines linked to climate change and habitat loss.

Shapiro, an entomologist and professor of evolution and ecology, monitors 10 locations from Suisun Marsh to the Sierra Nevada and maintains one of the two largest butterfly databases in the world. The other is the British Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

At most of the study sites, he has seen half or less than half the number of species typically present at this time in an average year. Near Vacaville at Gates Canyon in April 2005, he found 21 species and 378 individual butterflies. But last month he counted 10 species and 43 individual butterflies.

Many species already appear to be suffering from a serious long-term decline because of several factors, including changes in climate and loss of habitat, he said.

“This short-term anomaly has really kicked the populations while they’re down and may have accelerated their decline,” said Shapiro.

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8 thoughts on “Where have all the butterflies gone?

  1. J. Clifford Cook

    Where have all the butterflies gone?
    Gone to Hummers, every one.
    When will we ever learn?
    Where have all the Hummers gone?
    Gone to get new big flat screen plasma tv sets from the mall, every one.
    When will we ever…

    … oooh, look! News about Britney’s pregnancy on at 7:00!

  2. Anonymous

    I have seen plenty of white butterflies but there seems to be a distinct abscence of yellow ones?

  3. freebox

    here in portland i’ve seen a fair number of swallowtails. only a few white cabbage destroyers though. as a person with a lot of brassicas i’m not exactly sad that i’m not getting inundated with those evil devouring larvae, but perhaps i should be more concerned than not.

    when i was in indiana a few weeks ago there were butterflies everywhere, but i was in a super-rural area. they were flitting around along the queen anne’s lace and fighting over the milkweed. maybe you should plant some milkweed, or asclepias tuberosa if you haven’t already. they love that.

    back to portland it does seem a bit odd that the buddleias are almost butterfly free. they seem to prefer hanging out by the park for some reason.

  4. denny

    hey freebox,

    about the milkweed… yup. got lots of it. in fact, i’ve been putting in all sorts of butterfly favorites. in fact, all the landscaping i’ve done has been centered around the idea of providing food and shelter to local species of birds, butterflies, frogs, etc.

  5. freebox

    milkweed and still no butterflies? that’s bad.
    i think the problem here in the city is lack of meaningul access to safe water… there’s no lack of vegetation to be sure. all the places i’ve been this year that have had meaningful butterfly population were near creeks or marshes.

    ps. bees just love the flowers that alliums put out. I’ve got leeks going to seed that the bees are just in love with. they hang out on those big globular flowers from morning to sunset buzzing away.

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