Even Before Flowers, There Were Butterflies

February 5th was established in 2004 as California Western Monarch Day by the California state legislature, to celebrate these beautiful butterflies and their annual migration to spend winters on the central coast of California, and to highlight the rapid rate of their decline. Researchers estimate that a jaw-dropping 970 million monarchs have vanished just since 1990.

To read more about Monarchs, other butterflies, and moths click:

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 2016’s count, indicating ongoing risk of extinction for America’s most well-known butterfly. However, scientists report that 2020’s overwintering numbers for western monarch butterflies showed a small increase over 2019, but the population is still down by more than 80 percent from the mid-1990s.

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 50 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.


  • Monarch butterflies
  • Butterfly and Moth Montage: (top row) Spotted Purple Swallowtail butterfly, Niagara Parks Green butterfly, Azure Starry Night Cracker butterfly – (bottom row) Brown Triangle moth, Wax moth, and Meadow Brown butterfly.

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 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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