Is there a butterfly shortage?

I’m currently doing a citizen science project on butterflies for my environmental science class. I’ve started noticing more butterflies in my area as global temperatures have started to rise, yet monarch butterflies were recently put on the endangered species list… This got me interested in the effects climate change have had on the butterfly population. If any of you have noticed a butterfly shortage, or surplus in your area recently, please comment and let me know! I appreciate your help!

Based on absolutely zero scientific evidence I would say there have been far more butterflies in my area this year, despite me not getting out as much as previous years. I have seen a significant increase this year in the numbers spotted over the last few weeks here in my few frequently visited square miles of the UK.

With butterflies weather influences greatly how good a butterfly season you have. To detect real trends in abundance of butterflies just like birds requires decades of observations using structured citizen science projects like butterfly counts. I suspect butterfly abundances are going down but not as fast as other groups of insects. One thing helping butterflies is they fly during the day so are little affected by artificial lighting.

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Most survey trends are negative for the last 20-50 years (Xerces Society is a good source), but there’s consistent data from only a few sites and a few species relative to overall diversity. Bees and butterflies share many concerns regarding habitat decline and pesticide use and Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera are groups with tens to hundreds of thousands of species (depending on the area you’re studying) and only a few iconic species get any attention or press (e.g., Monarchs, Bombus affinis). I didn’t include beetles and flies, because who honestly asks “are you seeing fewer Syrphids this year?”

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who doesn’t?

agree with strong seasonality of butterflies and association with specific weather patterns. I’ve noticed that I see more when I’m in a place that has more host plants. I see fewer in my yard than I do when I’m in a wild area. I see more in my yard than I do in a yard that’s a grass monoculture. so on and so forth.

I hoped that I saw a monarch the other day visiting cup plant flowers in my rain garden. but when I zoomed my camera on it, I saw that it was “just” a viceroy. still a cool sighting, but I don’t get many monarchs. even though I’ve been working on planting milkweeds (I have 3 species growing in my landscaping right now).

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Yes, there is in West Tennessee at least, so few compared to last year.

we should start asking that question. Part of the reason I iNat the same species I get night after night at my porch light is to make a baseline for the future.

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Speaking of:

I 100% agree. I have no problem with Monarchs being the poster child for conservation in general news/social media, but the real story is more complex and potentially worse overall.

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I just commented about the decline of butterflies in my suburban neighborhood in this observation of an Eastern Swallowtail: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/129616753.
The butterflies have to contend with habitat loss, pesticides, and herbicides.

And yet, I am seeing more butterflies, especially Skippers, than before I added water features and many native plants two years ago. A few other neighbors also plant for wildlife. I post to iNat to follow the changes over time.

Good luck with your project!

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I look out my window and I see a few butterflies right now. It is 12:30pm. I just release 3 this morning and 15 over the past few days. There is ample rain. Rain makes plants bloom and flowers attract butterflies. A few of the butterfly species tend to lay eggs right after a rainy stretch. Some are common at anytime of the year. After rains, new shoots grow. These butterflies lay their eggs on new leaves and green growth. So yes, I think rain is a factor on whether certain species are more common. Rain increases nitrogen in the soil. Manually adding an organic nitrogen fertilizer and watering can probably increase butterfly numbers indirectly. Butterflies are affected by parasitic wasps. When an area has a prevalence of such parasites, butterfly populations may be controlled. I do not have seasons over here, everyday is like summer. Now various parts of the world have wild fires burning that will decimate the plants and reduce the food sources. A rise in temperature to let’s say 30°C is conducive to insects. They probably develop faster and can have more reproduction cycles. It is not the same everywhere on earth.I’m unable to say whether butterflies has increased or decreased. Populations are naturally subjected to wide variations. Butterflies are common and easy to observe at some time of the day. Some butterflies are attracted to certain bushes, such as Crotalaria. If there are such plants in the garden, the butterflies will appear to be numerous.

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Well…I do moth counts, definitely, my moth numbers are way down this year (individual numbers and biodiversity of species) I think there are several factors that are contributing here. Municipal spraying for one, but climate change for sure. My numbers have been trending down for several years now.

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(Since I never directly answered your question)

Mixed bag in New Mexico. Overall, things are as good as they can be for a drought year. There’s always a surplus in my garden, but that’s because it looks like this


And my neighbor’s yards look like this

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