In recent years, butterfly populations have seen a major decline in numbers. Reasons for this decline range from the destruction of habitat to the use of pesticides. Thankfully, there is good news for butterflies. People are starting to see the importance of butterflies, and strides are being made to help the populations of these beautiful insects bounce back. Ecosystems that support butterflies need the correct climate, proper caterpillar host plants and adult food sources.
Butterflies are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, meaning that they get their heat from their surroundings. Due to this metabolism, climate is the most important indicator as to which ecosystem a butterfly can inhabit. Climate includes abiotic factors such as temperature, amount of precipitation, soil type, topography and the effect of human disturbance. These features of climate account for the types of plants that can be found in each ecosystem, which ultimately determines the types of butterflies that inhabit the space. Having the correct plants is critical for both the young and the adult in each species. Adults require flowers with nectar to provide them energy to fly and reproduce. They also use certain plants to support their young, which are referred to as “host plants.” The adults will lay their eggs on these specific plants and once the larvae hatch, they will eat the leaves of the plant until they morph into their pupa stage. A very common example is the monarch butterfly and its use of milkweed plants.
Thankfully, the Great Lakes Bay Region has many suitable habitats for a variety of butterfly species. There are grasslands and meadows that provide homes to species such as the cabbage white butterfly, the monarch butterfly, the painted lady and the great spangled fritillary. There are wetlands that provide sanctuary to the viceroy butterfly, the pearl crescent butterfly and the northern pearly-eye. Forests provide resources for species such as the red-spotted purple, the eastern tiger swallowtail, the little wood-satyr and the common wood nymph. These ecosystems can continue to support butterflies as long as people commit to help butterflies bounce back.
There are simple ways to aid the rebound of butterfly species.
- Use alternatives to pesticides in your gardening and landscaping.
- Landscape your yard and green spaces with native plants that can provide nectar to adults and host plants for their young.
- Support plants and habitat for other insects, in addition to butterflies, to help pollinate your plants and naturally diversify your space.
- Volunteer at a local park or nature center to help maintain native plant patches to be used during breeding season or as way stations during monarch migration.
- Report monarch butterfly sighting through Journey North and Monarch Joint Venture.
- Submit pictures to iNaturalist of butterflies that you find. This can help get them identified by naturalists and scientists worldwide and also provide more population information to scientists year-round.
- Help track butterfly populations through the Butterfly Count this month. There are 17 established Butterfly Counts in the Lower Peninsula. Visit the North American Butterfly Association website to find the one closest to you.
- If you’re a teacher, seek funding for a pollinator garden. It can be used to support local butterfly populations and can also be used as an outdoor learning lab.