Today’s factismal: Butterflies have been used as ecosystem health monitors since 1975.
Butterflies are fascinating critters. Their unique wingshape allows them to flit from plant to plant with a minimum of effort while also allowing them to change direction suddenly in order to evade predators. Their feet have special taste buds on them so that they can decide where to lay their eggs. And their antennae double as noses and anemometers, telling them both where the flowers are and how fast (and from where) the wind is blowing.
But one of the most fascinating things about butterflies is also one of the least known things: they act as living, breathing ecological monitors. Because butterflies are very sensitive to both the types of plants available for food and the climactic conditions, by recording different species seen and counting the number of each species seen an ecologist can learn a lot about how the ecosystem has changed over time. As a result, ever since 1975, ecologists have used a “Pollard walk” to learn how the butterfly population changes by walking the same area at the same time on a regular schedule.
What is really cool about this is that now they’d like you to join in on the fun! At Butterflies I’ve Seen, they’d like you to tell them which butterflies you’ve seen and where you saw them; you can also use the site to create a “butterfly bucket list” of all of the different butterflies you’ve encountered and which ones you still need to meet. They’ll take your data and use it to learn how the butterfly population and ecosystems are changing across the USA. SO flit on over!