TCS: Even Before Flowers, There Were Butterflies

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What’s a butterfly garden without butterflies? – Roy Rogers



Before there were flowers on Earth, there were butterflies. And moths.

That’s what scientists found after analyzing 70 fossils of wing scales and scale fragments unearthed in northern Germany. These 200-million-year-old fossils, which date to the Triassic-Jurassic boundary, are the oldest evidence on record of insects in the order Lepidoptera, the researchers said.

Some of the fossils share features with modern moths in the suborder Glossata, which have a straw-like proboscis that can suck up fluids like nectar. Given their complexity, and the time it would’ve taken to evolve to have such complex features, these fossils push the calculated age of glossatan moths back by about 70 million years to the Late Triassic “refuting ancestral association of the group with flowering plants.”

— from a study published online January 10, 2018 in the journal Science Advances

It’s hard to think of butterflies without envisioning them among flowers. But we need to start imagining what Earth would be like without butterflies, because we are losing them.

It’s not a pretty picture:

In February, 2017, the annual overwintering count of monarch butterflies “confirms butterfly numbers fell by nearly one-third from last year’s count, indicating ongoing risk of extinction for America’s most well-known butterfly. Scientists report that this year’s population is down by 27 percent from last year’s count, and down by more than 80 percent from the mid-1990s. This year’s drastic decline is attributed in part to more extreme winter storms that killed millions of monarchs last March in Mexico’s mountain forests where 99 percent of the world’s monarchs migrate for the winter.”

From the same report:

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that there is a substantial probability that monarch butterflies east of the Rockies could decline to such low levels that they face extinction. Researchers estimate the probability that the monarch migration could collapse within the next 20 years is between 11 percent and 57 percent.

“In addition to threats from more frequent and harsher weather events, monarchs are still severely jeopardized by the ever-increasing pesticides used with genetically-engineered crops destroying their habitat,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety . . .

The butterfly’s dramatic decline has been driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops. The vast majority of U.S. corn and soybeans are genetically engineered for resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in the use of Roundup and other herbicides with the same active ingredient (glyphosate) on Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwest corn and soybean fields.…

Of course, Monarch butterflies aren’t the only ones in trouble. Other butterflies, moths, and bees are also experiencing big declines in numbers. Evidence points to the order Lepidoptera being almost ten times older than Homo erectus, and to Anthophila (bees) having been on Earth for about 120 million years. Yet it’s really possible they will be wiped out before the next turn of a century.

If we continue to ignore how pollinators make the food we depend on possible,  it puts all of humankind at risk. But we will also face the loss of beauty that has been an inspiration to us for centuries. We need them, for body and soul.

Butterfly Effect

by Harun Al Nasif

My very birth sent forth a tremor
through the earth and heavens,
that unique frisson caused a stir
across the whole universe,
In the mosaic stretching
from the north-pole to the south-pole
it keeps engraved the perpetual hallmark
with great grace,
In the seamless muslin of the blowing
air tier by tier
is laced precisely the adroit tapestry
of that solitary resonance,
It’s trace is held with the fragrance
emanating from the florescence of time,
All over the ever-expanding space
its blooming buds are strewn
delineated with the streaks of lightning,

In all the organisms of the ocean
and every fold of the brine
the exact graphic grandeur of its culmination
is drawn exquisitely with subtle touch

Once just the first breath of mine
growing into a turbulent typhoon
swept across the wide continent
with its boisterous billow

But today how do you show
such sardonic bravado to deny me
in immense ignorance,
Want to flout my abiding impulse
in a sheer negligence
as the trivial flutter of a trifling butterfly?

Without my hues the azure
would not have grown so cerulean
or the fauna verdant as much –

Despite knowing all these
should you have the audacity
to negate my distinct contributions
in the vibrant soiree of this colorful world,
shall I understand,
you want the drab and dreary wilderness
to reign over the entire creation.

Look, have I not been here,
the visage of this vast landscape
kissing the sky-line
have never turned out to be as such,
in no way.

Who knows not that my arrival
has totally changed the panorama
of the operations of nature time and again?
But for my emergence,
the propelling tempo of the world
would have fallen into a stupor
and the wheel of eternity
would have come to a grinding halt.



  • Monarch butterfly coffee mug
  • Monarch butterfly on rose
  • Spotted Purple Swallowtail butterfly
  • Niagara Parks Green butterfly
  • Azure Starry Night Cracker butterfly
  • Meadow Brown butterfly

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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4 Responses to TCS: Even Before Flowers, There Were Butterflies

  1. Malisha says:

    Vladimir Nabokov studied butterflies and I believed he dreamed butterflies. Sometimes while reading his work I can hear butterflies in the mental background. A wonderful article:

    • wordcloud9 says:

      Hi Malisha –

      Nabokov’s Karner blue butterfly looks like a relative of the Palos Verdes blue butterfly, a small coastal dune butterfly here in Southern California – another butterfly with dwindling numbers due to loss of habitat.

  2. Malisha says:

    Another butterfly-tangent story: My kid was living with his father when he was about 10 but he didn’t want to. His father was trying to make him like team sports, but he didn’t (he loved gymnastics but his father found that “not masculine enough”). So he got signed up to play soccer and did not excel and this brought him a lot of complaint and criticism. One day he devised a way to protest his forced participation (on the bench) in soccer games. He brought with him a butterfly net given to him by one of his friends, and at a certain point during the game while he was bored, he grabbed his butterfly net and scurried around off the field chasing (imaginary or real, I never found out) butterflies. This caused embarrassment for his father, punishment for him (I was gonna get grounded anyway for not playing well), but ultimately he was liberated from the team.

    • wordcloud9 says:

      Such a shame that so many parents try to push their children to either re-live their own past glories, or to live the life the parents feel they were cheated out of. Looks like your son found a really creative way to avoid some of that – kudos to him.

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