Butterfly Musings – Are numbers down this year?

I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong, but it sure seems that the number of butterflies on my property and elsewhere in my local travels are down this year.

Having one’s own meadow allows for frequent and regular observation of all things meadow related. In my case I not only observe the plant life as it progresses through the seasons and years, but also the insect life (and pretty muDSC_0916_14Jul19ch everything else for that matter). I regularly note the ebb and flow of various species and groups of things – although I must admit my observations are by no means scientifically designed and controlled. But I am out there regularly enough to get a solid sense of the numbers of various species. Now – mid-July, is when the meadow really shines – flowering is at or near a peak and insect life is abundant. For instance we seem to be having a boom year for common eastern bumblebees. The meadow fairly DSC_3482_09Aug23_3245hums with their all day long hunt amongst the countless flowers for nectar.  By now we should also be seeing a noticeable increase in numbers of everyone’s favorite showy insect group – butterflies, to nectar on all those flowers; but this year that does not seem to be the case. Quite the opposite in fact – butterfly numbers seem to be WAY down. And that’s all manner of butterflies with perhaps a few exceptions. One species that does seem to be here in “normal” numbers is the Silver-spotted Skipper.

DSC_004513Aug11_In the past I have noticed boom years for certain species – Red Admirals and Common Buckeyes come to mind. They will be quite common one year and the next there will be far fewer. Boom and bust cycles of species are a typical natural phenomenon. But this year most butterflies seem scarce and it has me DSC_1211_11Aug21concerned and mystified. I really do not have any good explanation, nor even a decent conjecture for this. Even the usually ubiquitous and somewhat unwelcome cabbage white butterfly is an uncommon sighting right now. Years past the meadow by now would be swirling with the fluttering flight of these non-native garden pests (in their caterpillar stage).

Like most of the US, we had a long, cold, snowy winter. Perhaps this had some effect? In the big scheme of evolution and climate that hardly seems likely. My meadow maintenance regime has not changed. There are probably more birds nesting in and near the meadow than ever before (a seeming result of the matDSC_0570_14June28ure state of the meadow, now in its 14th season). Caterpillars comprise a good portion of the diet of many birds – is this a factor? Again, seems unlikely;  food sources in the form of prey typically far outnumber the predators which allows for the ready propagation of the food source. I know that certain species can succumb to pathogens that ebb and flow, but the effect is usually only for a given species not an entire class.

DSC_1181_14Jul23Obviously more questions than answers here. I am certainly curious to know if others are perceiving this same thing. I’ll leave this with the thought that having a natural landscape on one’s own property, where nature is allowed to thrive, allows for these types of observations and musings. I would like to think it allows for a closer connection with the rhythm and flows of nature, even when the news seems negative.

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