Category Archives: Butterflies

Big British Butterfly Count

Butterfly

There’s four days left of the Big Butterfly Count 2014.

The charity Butterfly Conservation hopes that thousands of participants will spend 15 minutes to log 1m butterfly sightings – beating last year’s record of 800,000.

Nature lovers are being asked to count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (preferably sunny) weather. Records are welcome from anywhere, including parks, school grounds, gardens, fields and forests.

If you are counting from a fixed position in your garden, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a buddleia bush then record it as 3, but if you only see one at a time then record it as 1 (even if you saw one on several occasions) – this is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once.

If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.

The charity said: “Butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses.

“The count will also assist us in identifying trends in species that will help us plan how to protect butterflies from extinction, as well as understand the effect of climate change on wildlife.”

iOS Smartphone app

You can download a handy identification chart to help you work out which butterflies you have seen and submit separate records for different dates, and for different places that you visit. 

You can send in your sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org or by using a free smartphone apps available for iOS and Android.

Study advances ‘DNA revolution,’ tells butterflies’ evolutionary history

 

After Big Bang

By tracing nearly 3,000 genes to the earliest common ancestor of butterflies and moths, scientists have created an extensive “Tree of Lepidoptera” in the first study to use large-scale, next-generation DNA sequencing.

Butterflies. Credit: © andrey7777777 Butterflies.
Credit: © andrey7777777

Among the study’s more surprising findings: Butterflies are more closely related to small moths than to large ones, which completely changes scientists’ understanding of how butterflies evolved. The study also found that some insects once classified as moths are actually butterflies, increasing the number of butterfly species higher than previously thought.

“This project advances biodiversity research by providing an evolutionary foundation for a very diverse group of insects, with nearly 160,000 described species,” said Akito Kawahara, lead author and assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “With a tree, we can now understand how the majority of butterfly and moth species evolved.”

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Butterfly numbers at historic low

Butterfly

UK butterfly numbers are at a “historic low”, according to conservationists.

The charity Butterfly Conservation issued the warning ahead of its annual survey, the Big Butterfly Count. Difficult weather conditions, including last year’s wet summer and the recent cold spring, have exacerbated population declines.

But it is hoped that the hot start to July could help the insects to bounce back.    “The washout weather of 2012 proved a disaster for our butterflies; these conditions, coupled with long-term declines, means there are probably fewer butterflies in the UK than at any point during my lifetime,” said Sir David Attenborough, the charity’s president.

“Butterflies are vitally important. Their presence acts as a barometer of the health of our environment. Their ongoing decline tells us that all is not well in the British countryside.”

The Big Butterfly Count is a survey where the public are invited to record the insects flying in their local green space. They are provided with a chart of 19 common garden butterflies and 2 day-flying moths and asked how many of each can be spotted in 15 minutes.

Last year more than 220,000 butterflies were counted with 15 of the 21 species declining compared with the previous year’s survey. This year’s cold spring led to butterflies emerging three weeks late but the recent heatwave could boost numbers.

“This summer heatwave is the perfect tonic for Britain’s beleaguered butterflies,” said Butterfly Conservation’s survey manager Richard Fox. “The hot, calm conditions of recent weeks are ideal for butterflies to emerge, mate and lay eggs so we hope that their populations will start to recover and people can once more enjoy a profusion of butterflies in their gardens and the countryside.

“Spending just 15 minutes to take part in Big Butterfly Count over the coming weeks will enable us to see if butterflies have bounced back.”

The Big Butterfly Count takes place from the 20 July to 11 August.

60% of UK species in decline, warns new report

Image

UK nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of a groundbreaking report published this week by a coalition of leading conservation and research organisations.

Butterflies and moths have been particularly badly affected – almost three quarters of UK butterfly species have decreased in population during the last decade and the number of the UK’s larger moths has crashed during the past 40 years.

Scientists from 25 wildlife organisations have compiled a stock take of our native species and found that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from the UK altogether.

The unique report, based on scientific analysis of tens of millions of observations from volunteers, shows that from woodland to farmland and from freshwater streams to the sea, many animals, birds, insects, fish and plants  are in trouble.

The causes include the intensification of farming, with the consequent loss of meadows, hedgerows and ponds and increased pesticide use, as well as building development, overfishing and climate change.

The State of Nature report was launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London on Wednesday, while simultaneous events were held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

Sir David Attenborough said: “This groundbreaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope. For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife.

“Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals. We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.

“This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”

Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble – overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate.These declines are affecting our insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles, the most, but other once common species, like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.

“Threats including sweeping habitat loss, changes to the way we manage our countryside, and the more recent impact of climate change, have had a major impact on our wildlife, and they are not going away.

“None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes. And that knowledge is the most essential tool that conservationists have.”

Butterfly numbers decline following wettest summer

Watching butterflies flutter around our flowerbeds is one of the quintessential sights of summer, but there is new evidence that many of our garden favourites, including the Red Admiral and Holly Blue, are in sharp decline.

The Big Butterfly Count 2012 has revealed that 11 common types have decreased by more than a third compared with last year, as a result of the wettest summer in 100 years. Heavy rain, strong winds and low temperatures have sadly taken their toll, putting many already threatened species at risk.

Speckled Wood dropped substantially by 65%, Brimstone by 53% and Common Blues by 50%. The Red Admiral, which was abundant last summer, fell sharply, with numbers down by 72%. The Holly Blue (42% down) and common whites (each down by at least 33%) have also suffered.

Some butterfly species have increased, with Meadow Brown counts up by 186% to become Britain’s most abundant species. The study, run annually by Butterfly Conservation, is the biggest of its kind in the world.