You are here: Home » Reports by Year and Month » 2011 » ERTHAWARE Report #206 “Where have all the Butterflies Gone?”
Sep 202011
 

Dear ERTHAWARE Friends

The response was overwhelming to our last ERTHAWARE REPORT #205 with the pictures of this years alpine wildflower displays. A number of you local northwest residents enthusiastically took the journey to find them. Some were successful; others, not quite. In nature, a delay of a few days or a week can change the whole scene. Unlike commercial or scientific botanical gardens there are no gardeners or backup greenhouses or climate controls to maximize a continuous display. Wildness is a moveable feast. It requires familiarity with plant life-cycles, acquaintance with places, the monitoring of conditions for timing, and sometimes an educated guess or pure happenstance. But what a spectacular summer in the wild high country this has been. I’ve reserved a meadow picture for the next REPORT that will blow you away, something I’ve not quite seen before.

But in this REPORT I want to focus on the mountain wildlife we saw this summer. Yes, we saw bear, deer, elk, mountain goat and marmots. We’ve sent pictures of these animals in past years. But this year I want to send pictures of Lepidoptera that I recently photographed in the Olympic wilds – that is pictures of butterflies.

Now, I am not an entomologist (bug scientist) or a lepidopterist (butterfly and moth specialist), but I am fascinated and curious about all the insects that flit and swarm and buzz and crawl and chew and suck and pollinate and procreate in this rich mountain environment. I sometimes sit still in a humming meadow and am amazed at the communities of hard working little critters all around me. This biological wonder could not exist without them. They are integral and essential to the life process, indeed, they are the midwives of floral fecundity. But the most visually spectacular insects are the butterflies and moths.

I want you to contemplate the following 7 pictures, to be absorbed by the color, the patterns, the grace and fragility of these tender flitting creatures in this wild environment. I will not try to scientifically identify them, and doubt if I could since there are over 11,000 species in North America alone and over 100,000 world wide. I have a general idea of their families, but the more important issue is to be moved by their beauty.

1. I love the illuminated stained glass effect of the morning sun backlighting this fritillary butterfly sucking nectar through his straw-like tongue.

2. Two swallowtails in conjugal bliss – or sex in an alpine meadow

3. A Phoebus parnassium feeding from a sub-alpine Cow-Parsnip

4. A Blue Copper whom I patiently stalked but could not get a photo with his wings spread. So self-effacing and humble.

5. A Checkerspot resting on a tundra plant

6. A Polygonia in the Dosewallips canyon

7. I have the suspicion that this is a Pine Elfin (but not sure) that I saw in a mossy marsh of an old glacial cirque. It was breezy as heck, and my macro lens focusing mechanism malfunctioned. So it took me a frustrating half hour following this guy and playing with relative camera distance in the blowing breeze and multiple exposures to get a few sharp pictures. I love the red tongue rolled up like a party-favor in it’s head. He’ll unfurl this to reach and suck nectar from deep within the core of a blossom.

I am showing you these butterfly pictures, yes, for your enjoyment, but for another very serious purpose. Sir David Attenborough, the famous biologist who has brought us some of the most splendid nature films via the BBC, in a recent speech spoke about butterflies as a kind of global “canary-in-the mine-shaft” indicator of the declining health of our little planet. From scientific surveys over the last 4 decades, butterfly populations are in decline worldwide, in some areas as dramatic a loss as 85% since the 1970s. So what?!

Insects are indispensible for the continuation of life on this planet. 1) They are great digesters of organic material that creates fertile soils; 2) they are major pollinators of plants that produce food and oxygen for all creatures; 3) they are a source of protein for other creatures in the food chain that are essential for a healthy eco-system; and 4), in particular aside from the previous 3 reasons, the splendor of butterflies has been an additional source of cultural and psychological joy and fantasy for millions of folk throughout human history. If we remove insects from this tiny planet, in several generations we will remove the human race. Yes, there are insects that do damage to crops and carry diseases, but this is far out weighed by the unspoken good they do to further the organic processes of life upon which we all depend.

But why is this loss happening to butterflies. There seems to be two major inter-related factors – and that also effect other important creatures as well.

1). Dramatic loss of habitat. As I’ve related in previous REPORTS, when my dad was born in the early 20th century, there was about 1.5 billion people on earth; when I graduated from High School in 1959 there was 3.5 billion (and this was after 2 world wars, major pandemic diseases, and genocidal slaughter); in 2012 the earth’s population will exceed 7 billion. You can see the trend. While there are indications that this growth trend is slowing, it is not inconceivable that by mid-21st century the earth will have 10 billion+ people. Where will it go in the next 200 years?

When my dad was born, the vast majority of people were on small rural land holdings or country towns surrounded by a bio-diverse countryside. Now, over 50% of the earths population live in large urban concentrations that are continually expanding. Rapid urban sprawl has contributed to the loss of critical survival habitat and corridors of migration for many creatures, including the butterflies. At the current rate of growing urban sprawl, it is expected that an area twice the size of Texas will be devoured in the next two decades.

2.) Increased pollution from a global population driven by a man-centered market economy of ever more consumption. To get more and more inexpensive goods in Box-stores for the masses at maximum profit, the means of production is ever moving to countries with much less environmental regulation and an abundant work force with weak advocacy for high occupational standards. During my travels to 5 continents I have repeatedly seen the human and environmental costs of these realities. When we take into account that nature does not operate within national boundaries but in inter-related global systems, we can see the hand-writing-on-the-wall.

Furthermore, to feed this growing population the world economy has turned from small family or tribal farm holdings to huge agribusiness production. Huge swaths of land are being denuded of essential habitat and replaced by commercial plant mono-cultures that require tons of weed and pest poisons and petrochemical fertilizers to ensure success. Such short term assaults on how nature works can be devastating to normal creatures, but also creates large dead zones at the terminus of the worlds fresh water systems.

This is not to condemn all international production or agribusinesses, but we are in a new era that requires increased education and awareness and subsequent behaviors concerning how life works in a healthful manner in the global economy of natural life. This is not too unlike understanding generally how the organic systems in our own body function and making healthful choices about how we eat, think and behave. Otherwise the prognosis is a gradually increasing production of an impoverished wasteland to which we incrementally and unthinkingly adjust so long as we are superficially entertained emotionally and spiritually with what we want for the moment.

This certainly sounds grim. We need to wake up! My reaction is “I’m overwhelmed. What can I do to alter such massive problems? I’m helpless!”

But we are NOT helpless! While addressing the future of our tiny home-planet involves complex analyses and solutions, each one of us can become a powerful cell of intelligent light and health. We cannot nostalgically retreat to 1850, or hide in a wilderness. But as multitudes of us make simple, thoughtful life adjustments, creation can recover vibrancy. More about this at another time.

But what about the butterflies? Many people are beginning to plant butterfly gardens in their yards to increase habitat in urban and suburban areas. Suppose neighborhoods, schools, churches, civic clubs, businesses, cities began planning, teaching and coordinating such healthful landscaping? It would also be a boon for birds and other pollinating insects.

I’ve enclosed a link to the North American Butterfly Association that has regional instructions about how to create such a garden. For those in other parts of the world, there are many national Butterfly Associations you can Google – or just type in “start a butterfly garden.” Children and young people and, in fact, most of us would love to be a part of such a colorful revolution of healing for our tiny planet. This is a courageous act and protest against the rape of LIFE.

North American Butterfly Association – How to Start a Butterfly Garden

On the journey,

Hugs from Lynn and me

LIFE EDUCATION AND RESEARCH NETWORK (LEARN) (non-profit.org) 2204 Chestnut St. Port Townsend, WA. 98368 USA

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Donn

Hello. Welcome to the Blog version of Erthaware Report. I have been photographing nature for over 40 years and writing about it for almost that long as well. I hope you like the content of this site and come back often!

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