Why are Butterflies So Important?
Why are butterflies important? This was a question posed to the school children that visited my butterfly farm in Texas. Eager little hands would shoot up into the air and answers such as “because they are beautiful” or “because they make me happy” were shared. And the truth is these answers were absolutely correct. How can you argue with the wisdom of a five-year-old who simply declares that some creature is important because it makes them happy? I like the logic of five-year-olds. It is simple and to the point and honest…sometimes brutally so.
About this time of year, we started preparing for the droves of elementary-aged school children and their teachers and parents who visited the farm. The day was spent learning about butterflies, feeding butterflies in the flight house, picnicking and hiking. The field trip satisfied a science component of the life-cycle and introduced many to the great outdoors. I was the presenter who donned silly butterfly body parts (this is fodder for a later post) as I taught them about the coolness of these beautiful creatures we take for granted.
Having some fun with the children at Wild-Connections Butterfly Farm & Nature Center
So why are butterflies important? If you google this question you will find a load of answers…
- they have an interesting life-cycle worthy of study
- all creatures are important
- they’ve been around for a long time
- they are a very diverse species
- they are an important food source (for birds, lizards, etc.)
- etc., etc.
Pipevine butterfly Photo: Valerie Bugh
All of this is true and probably not super interesting to most. What is interesting are two major functions these beautiful winged creatures perform.
Butterflies are pollinators
Butterflies are the third most populace pollinator behind bees/wasps and flies. In case you haven’t heard, we are facing a pollinator crisis. The world’s food supply depends on pollinators. As smart as we humans think we are, we haven’t figured out how to produce food without pollinators. And unlike the water crisis that is happening world-wide (in the west in the US) the pollinator crisis is something that everyone can help with no matter where you are.
Butterflies are important pollinators. Photo: Valerie Bugh
Plant a garden full of flowering perennials, shrubs, and trees that butterflies love. (I’ll cover this next week.) Fall is the time to plan your gardens, and for some, it is the optimal time to plant. You will get an immense amount of pleasure and joy out of your garden while providing for all kinds of pollinators.
Butterflies are an indicator species
An indicator species is one that tells us about the health of our environment. These creatures are so sensitive to changes in climate, the presence of harmful chemicals, pollution in the air and water, and any other changes in the environment. We look to indicator species to help us determine how healthy our surroundings are.
Juniper hairstreak butterfly Photo: Valerie Bugh
So…step outside. Look around your yard. Do you see plenty of butterflies and other insects happily buzzing about? No? Then it is time to take stock in the condition of your environment. If your yard is not indicator species friendly, then it is not friendly to you and your family.
Banded peacock butterfly
What can you do?
The decline of the monarch butterfly and the honey bees is heralded far and wide, but they are just the ambassadors for the larger group of insects that play such a critical role in our very existence. The good part about all of this is everyone of us can genuinely play an active role in making things better. How?
- Plant some flowers
- Stop using harmful chemicals
- Educate yourself, your children, and everyone else you come in contact with
- Think twice before smashing that disgusting “worm” or spraying that bee
- Plant some flowers
- Educate, educate, educate
- Then plant some more flowers
- Better yet…create a wildlife-friendly garden and then have it certified (NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat)
- Brag to your neighbors about your garden by sticking a sign in your yard
- Get the kids involved
Banded orange butterfly
Who knew that these VIP insects masquerading as delicate beauties play such a critical role on our earth? Let’s help them out! Next week we’ll talk flowers…
All of the pictures in this post were taken on my butterfly farm in Texas. Thank you Valerie Bugh for your wonderful contributions!