Column: Butterfly species face extinction from climate change

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Soomin Chung

The two butterfly species are pictured in this graphic with an abstract background. "I love this graphic because it uses cooler colors to show the docile nature of the butterflies." Kalyani Rao said. "Julia Chung really did a great job portraying the beauty of the butterflies in their natural habitat." Graphic used with permission from creator Julia Chung.

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With COVID-19, upcoming elections, and more, it appears as though we have forgotten about the butterflies. However, things we used to think were impossible to worry about seem to be occurring more and more. The most recent reminder of global warming is the impending extinction of two butterfly species in Miami, which are the  Miami Blues and Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterflies. Miami blues are a gorgeous metallic blue with a silver-grey underside, only reaching about .39 of an inch when fully grown. Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterflies are only about an inch long when fully grown, and they can be spotted by their daring wing patterns of black and white lines splashed with orange.

This infographic portrays the main facts about the Miami Blue and Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak Butterflies. They have gone in and out of extinction for decades. “Our main job as a community is to spread awareness,” Kalyani Rao said. “If the public community shows a demand for better wildlife services and climate change control, we can play a big role in the fight, saving thousands of species.” (Kalyani Rao)

According to biologicaldiversity.org, “After Hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida in 1992, the already-scarce Miami blue butterfly almost went extinct: No one recorded a single sighting for years.” However, the butterflies reappeared in the 2000s and scientists in Florida have made careful efforts to keep a population maintained.

This may not seem important to many of us, but it is a warning to our community that we are not taking climate change seriously enough. “Miami blues (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) once flourished along Florida’s beach berms, and Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak (Strymon acis bartrami) flitted about in pine rockland forests along the Miami rock ridge, which underlies much of southeast Florida,” postdoctoral researcher in NC State’s Department of Biological Sciences Erica Henry said. “Now, nearly all of the habitat for both of these butterflies has disappeared under the city of Miami.”

The reason these butterflies have gone from numbers in the tens of thousands to almost extinct in a matter of months is rampant hurricanes. As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere grows due to climate change, hurricanes are getting bigger, meaning they are causing more destruction. The chances of regular storms turning into hurricanes are increasing as well.  

The species are also struggling due to the changing vegetation patterns on islands due to climate change. The Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterflies were suffering from climate change even before Hurricane Irma– the main evergreen shrub they rely on for food, pineland croton, is disappearing from areas due to the changing fire patterns. Animals that rely on consistent burn and regrow patterns from vegetation are suffering due to climate change, making these patterns become unpredictable. Fires are occurring less due to human populations increasing as well. This is worse than you would assume, because the eventual wildfires that occur will be much worse and much more damaging than the smaller ones that usually come and go throughout the area, due to the forest being overgrown.

This graphic portrays the butterflies with a more somber background, illustrating the unstable nature of their endangered status. These butterflies are the pride of Miami. “The butterflies are glowing in this illustration,” Kalyani Rao said. “I really like the almost monochrome colors.” Graphic used with permission from creator Julia Chung. (Soomin Chung)

Hurricane Irma wiped out 60-70% of croton plants in the area. Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterflies have completely disappeared from Big Pine Key in Florida, the area where these butterflies were monitored. Both Hurricane Irma and poor fire management were the cause of this extinction. 

The final message? In my opinion, our main job as a community is to spread awareness. If the public community shows a demand for better wildlife services and climate change control, we can play a big role in the fight, saving thousands of species. We have many things we need to focus on, as COVID-19 and upcoming elections are important pieces, but don’t let us forget about all of the animals that share the earth with us–we all need to look out for each other.