William A. Gralnick
Idyllic would be the word to use in describing my neighborhood in Brooklyn. If I remember correctly, there were five dead-end streets between Foster Avenue and Avenue H. The houses had front yards and backyards lined with trees, primarily American Sycamores with big leaves and extended branches.
Backyards are second only to dead-end streets for a kid. You could hide in them, hop over fences, run away in them, and play in them. In the summer, parents would set up sprinklers so we could splash and play until the yard was mush and we were dotted with mud splotches. The backyards were also gardens. Flitting amongst the flowers were butterflies.
There are 20,000 species of Butterflies. This is a thought-starter about those in and around us here in New York and south Florida—or used to be.
Some common butterflies that you will find in the New York City area include Eastern Swallowtail, Clouded Sulphur, Buckeye, Spring Azure, and Pearl Cresent. New York State even has a state butterfly, the Purple Admiral, chosen by 1,400 elementary and middle school students across the state.
In Florida over 160 butterfly species breed here, and about 200 species migrate through the state. There are twelve species of butterflies common in this area. PROGRAM NOTE: They and 23 others are either listed as endangered, imperiled, or rare. It is a grim picture. For instance, the Swallowtails so often seen are now rarely seen. I haven’t seen the majestic Giant Swallowtail in more than fifty years. We see two most often, the white Cabbage Butterfly. It is the most common butterfly in the country. The other is the Zebra. The zebra longwing is found throughout the state, although it is more common in the south. It is the official state butterfly. The Atala is nearly extinct. It was thought to be until several were discovered and put in the capable hands of the scientists at Butterfly World. Google Florida Butterflies and see what we will soon be missing.
When it comes to the butterfly that most enthusiasts and or environmentalists are concerned with, the dramatic orange and black winged Monarch, Florida is a most unusual place. We have a species of Monarch that, like many snowbirds, migrated here, liked what they found, and decided to stay and raise families. They can be seen fairly often, especially if you are near a garden or field full of milkweed, the aphrodisiac of the Monarch. Then there is the Western Monarch. It is migratory.
Flying up to 2,500 miles from the US and Canada, where they breed, all the way down to central Mexico, where they hibernate, the Monarch’s migratory pattern is the most highly evolved of any known species of their kind, so tells us the National Geographic. “People would say to the late Lincoln Brower, a world-famous monarch scientist for many years, ‘What’s the good of this migration? What good is it for the world?’ And his answer would be, ‘Well, what’s the good of the Mona Lisa?’ The migration is kind of the same thing,” Davis said. “It’s this natural wonder that instills excitement.”
The Western Monarch population is at the most significant risk of extinction. It has declined by an estimated 99.9%, from 10 million to 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021. Again, PROGRAM NOTE: that’s a 99.9% population loss. They are currently on the endangered list (the step before extirpation and then extinction).
As Dr. Marc C. Minno shares, “It is sobering to understand that extinction and extirpation (meaning that a species is no longer found in the wild) are in progress “under our very eyes…”
But so what? Here’s what. First, Butterflies are lovely to watch as they flutter here and there. It is what they do while fluttering that is important. Like bees, they ensure that new plants come to life after old ones die.
Not only are they fascinating to watch, but they are altogether fascinating. Here are a few “did you knows.” The powdery scales, which are unique to each species, give the butterfly its beauty. The scales on the translucent wings enable them to fly: no powdery substances, no flight. No flight, no life. No life, no pollination. Butterflies have a very short life. If the germination stages are omitted, the lifespan is 5-7 weeks for most. One reason is that they are tasty treats for birds that snatch them from the air. Another reason is that the butterfly is delicate, and the world is not. The third reason is that their habitats are disappearing, and our chemicals are killing them.
Like all other insects, butterflies have six legs and three main body parts: head, thorax (chest or midsection), and abdomen (tail end). They also have two antennae and an exoskeleton.
Their hearts run the length of the body. The brain is in the thorax (thus, like some of us, they think with their hearts…?), and like none of us who were taught any manners, they taste with their feet.
But here’s what is so important about them. Butterflies are super important pollinators. Approximately one-third of all plants need pollination to set fruit, and bees and butterflies are the major pollinators. Flower nectar is the food for adult butterflies, and by flying from flower to flower sipping nectar, pollination occurs.
My editor reminds me that I love this following line and use it a lot. “They pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” More cement, less flowers. The chemicals do the rest.
To see what were dozens of different types of these flying objects d’art, do you want to have to put your kids in the car, drive to Butterfly World or a botanical garden, look for a parking place and shell out a bunch of money for parking and entry fees? All that for what we got for nothing right outside. Unless you do something for the Monarch and its cousins, that will be your only option. They will no longer be your children’s fascinators, no longer the things that make you go “oh!” when one or more suddenly appears, no longer will be a spot of light in an often dreary world.
Remember this: they can’t help themselves.
“It appears,” says Bill, “that there are so many big picture issues, that we love touch with other, smaller ones.” Hence, this ode to the Butterfly, without which there would be less food on the table and at much greater cost.
Don’t forget your Covid 19 booster and your flu shot!