UK Butterfly Extinction Feared

UK butterfly mass extinction feared in wake of new census

Britain’s butterfly extinction fears have grown in the wake of 2012’s unusually wet weather which resulted in widespread flooding in the United Kingdom. That’s the new 2012 report from the UK’s Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (BMS), which noted that the volunteer effort had collected more data than in any previous year — despite having to cope with the wettest weather in the region for over a century.

Unexpectedly severe rain from so-called “extra-tropical cyclones” first occurred in Great Britain and Ireland in April 2012, but the water kept coming in successive waves throughout the year and into early 2013.

North Americans were already rattled by new data that confirmed the ongoing collapse of the iconic Monarch Butterfly, which migrates up to 3,000 miles each year from as far north as Canada to its wintering grounds in northern Mexico.

Butterflies need warm, dry wings in order to fly. The UK’s unusually wet 2012 meant that many species couldn’t feed, mate, or even find shelter.

Tom Brereton, head of BMS, said, “2012 was a catstropic year for almost all of our butterflies.” He added that three-fourths of the UK’s species were at their lowest population ever, placing multiple butterflies at risk for extinction.

The effort covered 3,000 kilometers walked by 648 volunteers over more than 1,500 visits. The counters found 46 species of butterflies representing over 64,000 species.

For the majority of species, it was the worst year since the effort began four years ago. For example, the British peacock butterfly — the easily seen species I photographed in 2008 — has declined 68 percent since 2009. No Brown Hairstreaks or Swallowtails were found at all.

Overall, only 44 butterflies representing four species would be seen on an average visit to a survey square in 2012. In 2009, 80 butterflies of eight species would have been seen.

With evidence of climate change reducing butterfly populations in both the old and new world, butterfly extinction may be a worldwide threat.

[UK’s peacock butterfly photo courtesy Elaine Radford]