Butterflies Take Flight on Their Way to Extinction

The demise of the bright beauties will impact the production of many fruits and vegetables.
Appreciate this beauty...while we still can. (Photo: Universal Images Group/Getty)
Jun 14, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

Butterflies, like bees, are the most important insects in your yard and are a crucial indicator of the health of any ecosystem. It’s therefore disturbing that yet another species is facing extinction due to environmental changes caused by humans. 

Last week, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an emergency authorization for the collection and captive rearing of Schaus swallowtail butterflies in an effort to save the ‘endangered’ species from extinction,” says WildlifeExtra.com. The authorization came after “surveyors observed only three to five Schaus swallowtail butterflies at [Florida’s] Biscayne National Park during their current flight season...Recovery of the Schaus swallowtail is hindered by insecticide use, habitat destruction, droughts, hurricanes, and illegal collection.”

The reduction in the Schaus population, while worrying on its own, is part of a worldwide trend. In December 2011, the Daily Mail reported, “Many of Britain’s most beautiful butterflies are in dramatic decline, conservationists are warning. Seven out of ten species have seen their numbers plummet over the last decade, with the worst-hit at risk of extinction, according to figures released. Intensive farming, changes in forestry and increased development are all putting the delicate creatures at risk.”

In March 2010, scientists warned that, “Hundreds of butterflies, beetles and dragonflies are at risk of extinction across Europe with almost one-third of 435 butterfly species in decline,” according to The Guardian. “The loss of habitat caused by intensive farming, climate change, forest fires and the expansion of tourism is threatening with extinction 14% of dragonflies, 11% of saproxylic beetles and 9% of butterflies within Europe.”

The hugely pivotal role butterflies play as pollinators in the ecosystems in which they live was also pointed out by Greenopolis.com when they highlighted a study done by the National Institute for Agricultural Research and National Centre for Scientific Research in France which “determined that the decline of pollinators like butterflies and bees will likely impact the production of many fruits and vegetable. The study valued the work of bees and butterflies at about $215 billion. This amounts to roughly 9.5% of the total value of the world’s agricultural food production.”

Beyond startling figures like this, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that butterflies are an incredibly beautiful part of our environment.

The Children’s Butterfly Site perhaps sums it up best: “Despite their small size, butterflies and moths are some of the world’s most wondrous animals. Their beauty, seemingly miraculous metamorphosis, and apparently carefree flight all spark our imaginations.”

Do you think the government should be doing more to prevent butterfly extinction?

Lawrence Karol is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York City in a mid-century-modern-inspired apartment with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet editor, who enjoys writing about design, food, and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence

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