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Butterflies Can Boost Your Connection With Nature


Swallowtail Butterfly

Do you delight in noticing butterflies when you are out in a garden or a park during the summer months?

There are approximately seven hundred and fifty species of butterflies in the United States - while worldwide, there are over seventeen thousand known species.

But butterflies are not just about their beauty...

Butterflies are important for the environment, coming with many benefits

  • They are valuable pollinators.  While honeybees often receive the main spotlight and attention, these fluttering butterflies also contribute significantly to the health of our environment and the growth of various plants. Butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another as they visit them for nectar.  Their interactions with flowers allow for fertilization, leading to the production of seeds, fruits and nuts.  Essential for the survival and reproduction of many plant species, we rely on these pollinators to ensure a continued supply of many foods.  Flowers have evolved over time to develop those shapes, colors and scents that attract specific pollinators.  At the same time cross-pollination allows for genetic diversity in new plants, aiding disease resistance and adaptation to changing conditions. 
  • They are an indicator of the health of an ecosystem.  This is because those areas rich in butterflies and moths are also rich in other invertebrates.   
  • The study of butterflies facilitates scientific research, serving as a key model system for studies of a whole host of subjects for researchers.
  • They offer educational benefits.  Alongside the honeybee, butterflies are one of the key insects that children learn about in school. The metamorphosis from a larva into a butterfly is a great way to share the magic within nature, helping to engage children in science and biology - perhaps leading to a lifelong interest and even careers in these fields. 
  • They are an indicator of the effects of climate change.  Data gathered by Butterfly Conservation in the UK shows that butterflies are already being strongly affected by climate change with over one quarter of UK species spreading north.  Butterflies such as the Comma are said to be moving further north at several miles per annum.

The Comma Butterfly

Counting butterflies comes with wellbeing benefits

2022 saw the start of the Big Butterfly Count in the UK when participants were encouraged to spend fifteen minutes outside in nature counting butterflies to help scientists from the Butterfly Conservation charity and the University of Derby to track how the insects were faring.

Surveys completed by nearly four hundred people before and after the three week count period revealed a nine percent reduction in anxiety among those participants - and a greater sense of connection with nature - as well as noticing butterflies and nature more intensely.

The Big Butterfly Count is now an annual event...

We can learn from the past too  

People have loved watching and collecting butterflies in the UK and elsewhere for decades, and this means records and knowledge about them is extensive and archival.  Such information can help researchers study how insects respond to changing environments, and as a group (sensitive to changes with short lifecycles and a particular requirement for types of plants and stable conditions), they are perfect for this.

With their beautiful colors and intricate patterns and their graceful fluttering and flying, butterflies tend to get a lot more love than other types of insects.

Although we would not think of collecting and killing butterflies for private collections today, specialist researchers do still need to collect specimens to contribute to their understanding of living butterflies - for documenting biodiversity and for conservation.

Methods of field collecting have changed little since butterfly collecting became popular in Victorian times. The butterfly net remains the primary tool of the trade. Most butterflies are attracted to flowers, although bait traps—with fermenting fruit, putrid liquefied fish, mammal dung, or even carrion—are used to attract certain species.

As most butterflies stay close to their caterpillar foodplants, the best way to find a particular butterfly is to search out an area where its favorite plant grows in abundance. 

Isn't it time for more of us to show our love and understanding for butterflies?

This is the Monarch Butterfly...



Butterflies and Global Warming: Indicators of Unnatural Change | Saving Earth | Encyclopedia Britannica

LepTraits 1.0 A globally comprehensive dataset of butterfly traits | Scientific Data (nature.com)

Big Butterfly Count (butterfly-conservation.org)