January 17, 2019

Butterflies: Riders on the Storm

Butterflies: Riders on the Storm

Q. How do butterflies survive severe storms?

A. Some butterflies and moths ride out storms with high winds, heavy rain and falling temperatures by seeking shelter. Refuges include the underside of leaves and tree limbs, leaf debris, crevices in rocks and clumps of tall grass. Winter storms will send some species climbing higher in tree limbs for added protection from cooler temperatures closer to the ground.

In 2016, a single severe storm in the Mexican wintering ground of the monarch butterfly wiped out as much as 40 percent of the population there. Adding to the mortality was the thinning of forest canopy in a microclimate that had previously offered shelter.

Last year, a study of the storm’s aftermath, published in the journal American Entomologist, reported that the intact microclimate had acted “as a blanket that holds heat beneath the forest canopy” and “as an umbrella that reduces wetting of the butterflies clustering on the tree boughs.” The tree trunks, too, radiated warmth that protected the butterflies from freezing.

The trees also provided some protection from severe winds. The results of the canopy loss showed the potential danger of climate change to the butterflies, the researchers concluded.

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