Butterfly Dread

August 5, 2012

Another of the ‘canary in a coal mine‘ motif, this one via butterflies.

Two years ago in the UK, a bunch of people calling themselves ‘citizen scientists,’ took part in the first Big Butterfly Count to much-better track their slowly disappearing butterfly species — 10,000 people participated in the original, 34,000 last year, no telling yet how many involved with the current Big Count, it just started last Thursday and will conclude today (August 5).
The reason for the count: “Obviously we’ve had lots of rain and quite unpleasant weather recently. British butterflies tend to be most abundant in the summer months but it needs to be sunny, dry, and warm to get them flying around. If they’re not flying around, they’re not feeding and if they’re not feeding they’re not going to survive for very long” — Stephen Dickie, head keeper at Tropical World in Leeds.

(Illustration of a Red Admiral Butterfly found here).

Wild animals follow the outdoors, and they can follow it a long way, like the elm seed bug, normally found in south-central Europe, have now been detected in southwestern Idaho in the US, even wolverines are being threatened by the changing climate, but it’s the insects like the butterfly that have a hard future.
Sixty different mobile species have already re-located from parts of Europe.
Factual words nearly without compassion from the UK’s Royal Entomological Society: Changes in phenologies may have widespread impacts as a given insect’s occurrence becomes asynchronous with host plant or breeding site. Similarly, crop pests and the complex of parasitoids, predators and pathogens that regulate their populations may increasingly fail to co-occur, leading to perturbations in biological control. For some species, as the planet warms there will be simply nowhere to go and extinction beckons.
If you can move, though, you move.

From The Ecologist last Thursday:

According to a report by the Dorset-based charity Butterfly Conservation, 72 per cent of butterfly and moth species have declined in the last ten years, and 54 per cent have decreased in the UK.
Even the abundance of common garden butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, has dropped by 24 per cent.
Butterflies react extremely quickly to even minor changes in the environment, making them both a good indicator of biodiversity and providing an early warning system for other reductions in wildlife.
As a result, they are now the best-monitored group of insects in the world.

Contrast the UK with north central Minnesota in the US — they’ve way-more butterflies already this year.
This from John Weber at the Park Rapids Enterprise, posting this morning on the results of a fourth of July butterfly count in the area:

As a result of all the early season butterfly activity I witnessed, I “expected” a very good count season in 2012.
I was not disappointed!
The 10,630 butterflies logged on the six counts this year were up 68.4 percent over the 6,313 in 2011.
I was surprised that the number of species we saw dropped from 69 to 65.

Weber enthusiastically discusses details of the survey/count, and notes butterfly immigrants pouring in from the south:

Altogether the immigrants totaled 445 in 2012, but only five in 2011!
An early spring warm up and record heat throughout much of the country spurred the migration north.
Very agreeable conditions around here produced the favorable numbers of butterfly offspring that we tallied on the counts.

And adds at the end: As I write these lines, there is a bit of a butterfly hiatus with far fewer on the wing than has been the case for the past four-and-a-half months. Already in 2012 I have recorded so many butterflies that I have to keep telling myself: “John, it’s only the end of July, not September!”

Butterflies ain’t stupid — very agreeable conditions always makes for better mating (sex) amongst a shitload of other stuff.
Early-warning indicators of envirnomental shifts, the butterfly seems to be screaming DO SOMETHING!
Long-time, climate-change screamer James Hansen of NASA penned an op/ed in Friday’s Washington Post trying once again to bellow out warnings — climate change is worse than expected, and it’s only going to get worse (h/t Climate Progress):

When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988 , I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet.
I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.
But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened.
Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change.
To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring.
They are caused by climate change.
The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small.
To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

Butterflies are supposed to be free…

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