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Where have all the butterflies gone?

2008 June 19

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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For all those garden enthusiasts—whether you have a green thumb or not—have you noticed anything different this season?

The reason I’m asking the question is that I’m yet to see any butterflies in my backyard. Don’t know if I just haven’t seen them or of something else is going on.

I’ve tried to create a healthy natural setting that will encourage regular visits from benefitial insects and wildlife. I normally use greenscaping techniques to protect the environment. I have specifically planted several shrubs and perennials that supposedly attract bees, butterflies and birds—aster, yarrow, butterfly bush, and daylilies, to name a few. Overall, the flowering plants are blossoming as expected this year. Currently, I’ve noticed that my birdhouses already have their share of regular tenants. The hummingbirds have already made an early appearance—but no butterflies.

I was hoping to enjoy the colorful scenery with these fluttering visitors while leisurely resting at my deck, but I suppose I’ll have to be patient. Nonetheless, I have two other options in the DC metropolitan area at this time to see butterflies from around the world. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History has an exhibit on Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution through the 10th of August and the Brookside Gardens South Conservatory in Wheaton, MD has a live butterfly exhibit called “Wings of Fancy” through September 21st. I highly recommend them to anyone who wishes to learn more about these colorful insects. If you’re traveling through DC, they exhibits are definitely worth a couple hours of your time.

In the meantime, I welcome advice on attracting butterflies to my garden.

¿Para dónde se han ido las mariposas?

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Para aquellas personas que les gusta la jardinería—independientemente si tienen buena mano o no—¿han notado algo diferente esta temporada?

La razón por la cual pregunto es que todavía no he visto mariposas en mi patio. No sé si se trata de que aún no las he podido ver o si algo irregular está ocurriendo.

He tratado de crear un entorno natural saludable que fomente las visitas rutinarias de la vida silvestre e insectos beneficiosos. Normalmente utilizo las técnicas de jardinería ecológica para proteger el medio ambiente. He sembrado arbustos y plantas perennes que supuestamente atraen abejas, mariposas y aves. En general, todas las plantas han florecido abundantemente este año. En la actualidad las pequeñas casitas de pájaros tienen sus habitantes tradicionales. Incluso los zumbadores han aparecido temprano esta temporada—pero las mariposas brillan por su ausencia.

Esperaba poder disfrutar el colorido paisaje a mi alrededor viendo a los pequeños visitantes revoloteándose en el aire mientras descansaba en mi balcón, pero parece que tendré que ser más paciente. No obstante, tengo dos opciones en el área metropolitana de Washington para ver mariposas provenientes de todo el mundo. Se trata de dos exposiciones. Una en el Museo de Historia Natural de la Institución Smithsonian llamada Mariposas + Plantas: Socios en la evolución que dura hasta el 10 de agosto y otra en los Jardines Brookside en Wheaton, MD llamada “Alas de fantasía” hasta el 21 de septiembre. Ambas son excelentes y las recomiendo para cualquiera que quiera ver estos coloridos insectos. Si está pasando por DC, estas exposiciones definitivamente merecen un par de horas de su tiempo.

Mientras tanto, espero que alguien me pueda aconsejar sobre cómo atraer las mariposas a mi jardín.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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84 Responses leave one →
  1. peggie permalink
    July 19, 2009

    I had numerous butterflies all over my garden last year, 2008. They especially loved my zinnias. This year, I’ve had lots of bees — both honey and bumble — and plenty of birds of all kinds at my birdfeeders, but NO butterflies. Did the cold, rainy spring/early summer kill them off? Everything else in the garden environment is as usual, but no butterflies. I miss them!

  2. Lina-EPA permalink*
    July 23, 2009

    Interesting. Around my house–plenty of bees, but limited butterflies. The few large ones stand out when I see them.
    The 5 butterfly bushes have not bloomed as profusely. think the weird weather has had an impact.

  3. Amy McIntire permalink
    July 31, 2009

    Dear Lina,
    In reading your posts and all the comments, I would like to second William Wyman and others in the promotion of plants indigenous to your geographic area. If you have been to the Smithsonian’s butterfly exhibit, you will no doubt understand that native butterfly species are adapted, and depend upon specific host plants present before the colonization of the Americas. An adult butterfly may feast upon the nectar of the butterfly bush or the day lily, but without the very specific larval food sources some species depend on, how can we expect butterflies to proliferate? Underused native plants like button bush (Cephalanthes occidentalis) can have the same magnetic effect as butterfly bush, while serving in other capacities in our native ecosystems as well.

    Entomologist, Douglas W. Tallamy, has written a very good book on this topic titled ‘Bringing Nature Home,’ and I encourage everyone who has any interest in attracting butterflies to their landscape to read it. Tallamy and his students at the University of Delaware have done numerous studies on insects and the plants they depend upon. He has even compiled of a list of plants and calculated how many different lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species use these plants as larval host foods. You can find a link to this list on Tallamy’s webpage. http://copland.udel.edu/~dtallamy/host/index.html

    Native plants can often be purchased locally at smaller nurseries who grow from local seed sources. To find out where you can purchase them in your area contact your state’s Native Plant Society, or go to http://www.wildflower.org/suppliers/ to search for suppliers in your area. I hope this information is useful to someone. Thanks for caring.

    Amy McIntire
    Enchanter’s Garden Native Plant Nursery

  4. Lina-EPA permalink*
    August 7, 2009

    Thank you, Amy. Excellent comments and resources. I appreciate the link on native plants since there are few such nurseries in my area.

    Please keep on visiting our blog, Greeversations.

  5. Carmen permalink
    August 16, 2009

    More rain killing the chrysalis=less adults.

  6. lyounes permalink*
    August 17, 2009

    Yes, the rain has had an impact. Around Maryland/DC/VA–it was unseasonably rainy towards the end of spring/early summer.

  7. burbank mad permalink
    December 4, 2009

    I just would like to say that the Chemtrails problem is not a MYTH. I have been watching the trails for a while now and they are getting bad. I have constant eye redness in one eye and I wake up with a bloddy nose often. I live near L.A. and the trails are bad here. Saw them this morning as a matter of fact. I saw contrails as well which did evaporate, but the chemtrails did not.

  8. JazzRoc permalink
    January 2, 2010

    Burbank mad,
    The stratosphere is a layer of Earth’s atmosphere which is above your normal weather, very VERY cold (-40 degrees Fahrenheit and colder), only a fifth of the pressure it is at sea level, and invisibly layered with sheets of stable air which have differing amounts of water vapor dissolved in them.
    Passenger transport aircraft fly through these stratospheric layers as they lay a trail of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and steam at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. In a split second this freezes to very fine ice crystals (snowflakes).
    Depending on the relative humidity of the layer the plane is flying through you will see the trail either evaporate (the air accepts the subliming ice crystals as water vapor), remain (the trail loses as much ice as it gains from the air), or grow (the trail gathers ice out of the water vapor dissolved in the air).
    That’s all there is to it. The ice gathered out of the air by the trail can be TEN THOUSAND TIMES MORE than the trail.
    That is why you can see it so easily.
    Any other symptoms you have are more to do with the fact that you meet people and animals, and they are disease vectors.

  9. know something permalink
    January 8, 2010

    Even if your passenger aircraft / ice theory were correct, it does not explain that passenger jets fly specific routes, they DO NOT GRID the sky, nor do they go for hundreds of miles and then make a 90 degree turn (whoops, I’m going to Las Vegas instead of Los Angeles now). I have a telescope and these planes have NO windows or logo’s. These are some type of large gov’t aircraft.
    I have seen 10 in the sky at once (no windows or logo’s).
    Explain that??? The logo’ed jets (commercial airlines) do NOT leave the horizon to horizon trails.

  10. fairflight permalink
    January 8, 2010

    jazzroc,

    The way you attack people and their comments says a lot about you! Educated, or not, scientific, or not, compassionate,or not…we are all human beings first, and witness and experience much of the same things!

    I would not call a closed mind, either educated or scientific.

    There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions experiencing strange health changes along with oddities in nature like the strange grids in the skies and loss of natural insects.

    If these grids were normal they would occur in “normal” flight patterns…but they do not. They vary hourly and daily. There are weeks with only a couple of days of gridding and then there are weeks of non-stop gridding, day and night, in chaotic patterns. If these were ice crystals, from passenger airliners, then we would certainly be seeing some tragic accidents in the sky. Ice crystals only form at a certain altitude and only last from seconds to 20 minutes at the longest. These grids stay for 4-8 hours and fan out and join to create a haze.

    Closed minded or not, this does not negate the exceptional number of people (hundreds of thousands+) experiencing health issues that directly correlate to the gridding.

    Something is greatly amiss, and the fact that we can’t get to the facts is frighteningly puzzling.

    We have a right in this free Nation to ask questions, and those responsible have a responsibilty to give us the truth.

    You sound quite young…I would guess college aged. I can promise jazzroc…you have much to learn. For your own sake, I hope it is soon, because you are human too, and the effects will eventually effect you as well!

  11. dowens permalink*
    January 14, 2010

    Thank you for your comment, however it seems the conversation has wandered off topic. The original blog post topic is”Where have all the butterflies gone? but we seem to have migrated to another conversation. The Greenversations comment policy (http://blog.epa.gov/blog/comment-policy/ ) states that off topic comments will not be posted. Only on-topic comments will be posted to this post. Thanks for your interest in Greenversations.

    Denise Owens
    Greenversations Editor

  12. dowens permalink*
    January 14, 2010

    Thank you for your comment, however it seems the conversation has wandered off topic. The original blog post topic is”Where have all the butterflies gone? but we seem to have migrated to another conversation. The Greenversations comment policy (http://blog.epa.gov/blog/comment-policy/ ) states that off topic comments will not be posted. Only on-topic comments will be posted to this post. Thanks for your interest in Greenversations.

    Denise Owens
    Greenversations Editor

  13. Curious about chemtrails permalink
    April 13, 2010

    I have family in Florida who have reported these grids and related health effects for years. Has the EPA or any other federal or state agency provided a response to public inquiries? Are photos of windowless aircraft and grids posted online?

  14. Lorraine Ridge permalink
    May 2, 2010

    Weezy, if you go to the Global Illumination Council there is a video featuring Dr Susan Dyers, I believe. In it she names several vitamins that can be taken to alleviate the respiratory problems caused by the chemtrails. If you would like more information, I would be glad to provide it. Please look under “Chemtrails”

  15. msm permalink
    June 27, 2010

    We live in northern MD and have noted the almost complete absence of butterflies this year despite lots of butterfly-friendly plantings and no pesticide use. Sad.

  16. bob permalink
    July 4, 2010

    Up here in CT. it’s the same thing, big butterfly gardens and zero butterflies. I’ve never seen it this bad. In 2005 when I started the gardens I would have 2 dozen at a time in 1,000 sq. ft. of garden space. Last year was noticeably light…but this year nothing!!

  17. Cathy permalink
    July 17, 2010

    I live in the midlands of South Carolina and have only seen a few of the smaller butterflies. Last summer we had tons of butterflies on our lantana bush. This year we even planted all kinds of plants that attract them. Does anyone know what’s going on? I am so glad I took hundreds of photos last year. I have been anticipating with much excitement for them to return! I would sit outside for hours last summer taking pictures of them and summers in the south are horrendous! This is really scary!

  18. Lina-EPA permalink*
    July 30, 2010

    Hi, Cathy
    Around my house in Maryland, I’ve seen bigger butterflies than last year, but too few and far between. I share your concern. We can’t live without pollinators!

  19. Claire permalink
    October 22, 2010

    I think that I read some-where that the general heat has effected butterflies, but not the butterfly it starts from the cacoon. where the damage is done. but if any one has a camcorder they should still try and capture the butterflies on a camcorder

  20. Dave permalink
    January 17, 2011

    I have also believed this chemtrail theory. I think the power elite and corporations are working together to deplete the world’s food source by exterminating the plant pollinators because they believe there are too many of what they term “useless eaters” in the world—look into the Georgia Guidestones. They are also using chemtrails (they are at it as I am writing this on Jan 17, 2011 in Pittsburgh, PA) to do something called geo-engineering to create cloud cover to cool the planet. I do not believe in this global warming scam however I think the planet does have natural warming and cooling cycles. The elitists like to put the blame on man so they can further manipulate us and have reasons for raising taxes and doing other things illegal. I also heard that they are using some chlorinated chemical to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere but when exposed to sunlight turns into phosgene gas which is heavier than air and settles to the ground. This over a period of time will cause respiratory ailments and possibly death. Pets are highly susceptible as they put their noses right to the ground.

  21. Maureen permalink
    July 10, 2011

    I think you may be describing a wheel bug. I too catch them with a net & kill them. Do not touch them with bare hands. They have a terrible bite.

  22. Maureen permalink
    July 10, 2011

    I live in south central Virginia. There has been no spraying for gypsy moths here for at least the past 10 years. I have a butterfly habitat in a very rural area. Last year I raised over 150 monarch caterpillars while leaving many more on the milkweed. This year I raised 3. I had an abundance of pipevine swallowtail caterpillars and a few great spangled fritillary butterflies. I have seen just a few of the other larger butterflies. My lantana & butterfly bushes are almost empty. Every year at this time I could count a minimum of 50 butterflies around the garden at any time of the day. There were always a huge amount of monarchs. I have host & nectar plants for a variety of butterflies. We have had cold winters & wet springs before but it seemed to have little effect on the butterfly population. This is the 1st year in my life that I have not seen an abundance of butterflies.In the 50′s my dad had a butterfly garden where I grew up just down US 1 from you-on 44th Ave in Riverdale. A friend in FL has the same problem.

    The monarchs were a month early arriving here this spring. Fortunately I had enough milk weed. But before I knew it, wasps had taken away most of the monarch caterpillars as were the black swallowtail caterpillars. Many people around here have commented on the unusually large number of wasps & hornets in the area. Maybe a connection.

    I have had very few insect pests in my veggie garden but a huge number of bumble bees, a few honey bees. Last year we had huge numbers of the large butterflies.

    Also, my coneflowers, butterfly bushes, petunias and lantana have not done as well as they have in the past. Our hummingbird, finch, cardinal, jay, etc populations have not changed.

    I have no idea what has happened other than possibly a global warming effect or a silent spring, although I would think that global warming would be beneficial to the insect population and flowers. I am hoping that it is just an anomaly.

  23. dave w permalink
    July 17, 2011

    no butterflies or bees in nebraska… tis has been the case for several years. i know the bird population is down over 50% in the past 40 years and i suspect the insect population in general has dramatically changed.

    not a good thing…. no one notices

  24. Carol permalink
    July 19, 2011

    I have not seen even one yellow swallowtail or monarch butterfly this summer. They are usually so plentiful to see every year.

    Where are they? Something doesn’t seem quite right.

  25. Olivier permalink
    July 31, 2011

    The North American Butterfly Association has articles, maps and even an online form to start a butterfly count. They study butterfly distributions across distances and time periods by collecting data from volunteers.
    http://www.naba.org/butter_counts.html

    Other places to research include Entomology journals:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_entomology_journals

    The fluctuations in butterfly populations maybe due to several factors – man-made and natural. Below is a summary from a recent impact study on land use and how habitat fragmentation can influence local populations of pollinators.

    - The Journal, Current Biology – Published July 21, 2011
    Paper Title: The Circe Principle Explains How Resource-Rich Land Can Waylay Pollinators in Fragmented Landscapes
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982211007184

    Summary:
    “Global declines in pollinators, associated with land-use change [[1], [2], [3], [4], [5] and [6]] and fragmentation [[7], [8], [9] and [10]], constitute a serious threat to crop production and biodiversity [11]. Models investigating impacts of habitat fragmentation on pollen flow have categorized landscapes simply in terms of habitat and nonhabitat. We show that pollen flow depends strongly on types of land use between habitat fragments. We used paternity analysis of seeds and a combination of circuit and general linear models to analyze pollen flow for the endangered tree Gomortega keule (Gomortegaceae) [12] in the fragmented Central Chile Biodiversity Hotspot [13]. Pollination probability was highest over pine plantation, moderate over low-intensity agriculture and native forest, and lowest over clearfells. Changing the proportions of the land uses over one kilometer altered pollination probability up to 7-fold. We explain our results by the novel “Circe principle.” In contrast to models where land uses similar to native habitat promote pollinator movement, pollinators may actually be waylaid in resource-rich areas between habitat patches. Moreover, pollinators may move with higher probability between habitat patches separated by some resource-poor land uses. Pollination research in fragmented landscapes requires explicit recognition of the nature of the nonhabitat matrix, rather than applying simple binary landscape models.”

  26. Sharon Logan permalink
    August 1, 2011

    I have a glory bower blooming in my year that is normally covered in butterflies. No exaggeration. Covered. There are none this year. I also noticed fewer bumble bee.

    I don’t use Round Up or any of this stuff.

    I planted milkweek and have a huge garden for them, but they aren’t to be found.

    Last winter the dam broke on the 10 acre pond we live on, draining the pond. It was repaired in early spring. This is the only thing that
    has changed.

  27. SBC permalink
    November 27, 2011

    Hi

    Seems to be the same this yeah, none around anywhere, lots of horrid wasps though.

    Mike

  28. November 28, 2011

    The lack of butterflies seems to go along with the mysterious mass animal deaths from fish to birds that have occurred over the last year or so. I truly wonder if the lack of butterflies as well as animal deaths is a result of the chemtrails / geoengineering going on in the world. “What in the World are they Spraying?” is a recently developed DVD available in full version if you search youtube. Maybe the butterflies cannot survive these chemicals in our environment being of such a small creature.

    I know I am missing butterflies in my back yard as well.

    So sad and trying times we live in… keep praying. We may need prayers more than ever if some of these mysteries are not solved soon!

  29. Anonymous permalink
    December 12, 2011

    I just would like to say that the Chemtrails problem is not a MYTH. I have been watching the trails for a while now and they are getting bad. I have constant eye redness in one eye and I wake up with a bloddy nose often. I live near L.A. and the trails are bad here. Saw them this morning as a matter of fact. I saw contrails as well which did evaporate, but the chemtrails did not.

  30. Lina-EPA permalink*
    January 6, 2012

    Let’s see how things are this spring. Thanks for your comments

  31. David permalink
    February 5, 2012

    And once again,The radiant heat from the sun melts these ice crystals,.
    And the topic is where has all the butterflies gone this is correct But can you explain all the rain water and soil samples with extreme high amounts of aluminum and barium and other heavy metals.

  32. Anonymous permalink
    May 19, 2012

    You have a really nice blog here. Just wanted to comment and appreciate. I will certainly be following this from now on.

  33. May 28, 2012

    no butterflyscause the milkweed is gone we did to plant milkweed to get them back put in your search bar milkweed for monarch it takes you to a site where you can buy milkweed and caterpillows you can buy some and plant the milkweed to get our butterflys back

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