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Alarming decline of our colourful Butterflies
Without doubt one of the planet's most beautiful winged insects, butterflies are declining in numbers everywhere. They are an extremely important part of the world's ecosystem and the food chain.
Butterflies come from the order Lepidoptera, which also includes Moths. They comprise of various families (Papilionoidea-super family)true butterflies, skippers(Hesperiidae-super-family) and moth-butterflies(Hedyloidea-superfamily).
Butterflies have been around for many millions of years, the earliest fossil remains found dated between 40-50 million years old. Some are also known to migrate over huge distances, Monarch, Painted Lady, Danaire, and spectacular and large migrations are seen with Monsoon Butterflies on the Indian Peninsular. They navigate by time compensated sun compasses and extraordinary feat for such a small creature.
Their life cycle comes in 4 parts, egg, caterpillar, pupa, adult. The latter frequently being the shortest part as many butterflies once adult simply fly to find a mate then die.
But, although some species can live as long as 6 months, those days that they can be seen are a treasure and as they emerge from their pupal state and unfurl and dry their wings the true beauty of this so important insect is revealed.
Glorious Colour, wonderful camouflage
All beautiful, all endangered
The greatest threat to butterfly numbers is two-fold.
Firstly, the loss of and changing habitat. This is mainly due to land development, be it residential, agricultural or industrial. There is also an overuse of insecticides in some places because of the need to control the Malaria carrying mosquito population.
Secondly, there is climate change, and this is affecting the numbers even more substantially. This is because as our planet warms certain habitats become dry and arid, therefore the plants and vegetation needed by the butterflies to not just lay their eggs but also for the caterpillars diet , leaves being the biggest part of their diet.
Butterflies themselves take nectar from flowers and drink even from swimming-pools by uncurling a long proboscis..
It is a fact that butterflies have been taken for granted but they are a sensitive indicator to the destruction of habitat and mans harming of the environment.
Species disappearing include the Giant Swallowtail of Jamaica to the Atewa of Ghana, the Oregon Silverspot to the Apollo butterfly of the Alps in Europe.
There are at least 21 species listed as endangered and at least 2 as threatened, and many listed as extinct in the wild.
What can be done ?
Because the steady decline in the butterfly population has been largely ignored, the reversal of their fortunes in the wild is not going to be easy and the options are limited.
Planting new habitats is going to be difficult particularly with climate change problems. But individuals can help greatly.
Plant flowers and blooming bushes(Buddleia and Lilac), for instance, and trees that butterflies like. They are pollinators and therefore a very important part of the food-chain.Talk to your neighbours, even farmers and the people who run the big public parks. Spread the news and encourage others to do the same.
After all what can be a more lovely sight than these beautiful creatures settling to feed or to rest in your garden, and to know you are helping the environment and ecosystem.
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