How Temperature Affects Butterfly Behavior

On every continent, except Antarctica, you will find a variety of butterflies in their fragile beauty gracefully flitting from flower to flower, pollinating along the way. There are approximately 20,000 known species of butterflies in the world. In the majority of the United States, you can find roughly 100 species of butterflies in the immediate vicinity of any home. The average life-span of an adult butterfly is approximately one month; however, because of the dangers provided by predators, disease, automobiles, most butterflies lives are much shorter than this.

Being cold-blooded, butterflies are reliant upon temperature. Most butterflies living in cold climates weather the winter as caterpillars, though there are almost as many butterflies that spend the winter as pupas. There are a number of specific species who spend the winter as adults hibernating, mainly tortoiseshells (Nymphalis) and anglewings (Polygonia). These can be found in holes in trees, in cracks in walls, or in other man-made structures. And an even fewer number of species spend the winter as eggs.

Of the many butterflies that spend their summers in North America, most would not survive winters of the northern variety. As the weather becomes warmer, butterflies from Mexico and the southern United States migrate to the north and repopulate within these regions. Each year a variety of butterfly species migrate northward, some of which are: Cloudless Sulphur, Little Yellow, Gulf Fritillary, Painted Lady, American Lady, Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, Long-tailed Skipper, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper, Sachem, and Ocola Skipper. Some butterflies take part in the “reverse” migration, that is go south in the fall, and this seems to be more obvious. This includes a number of species as well, such as: Cloudless Sulphurs, Mourning Cloaks, Question Marks, Queens and Monarchs. Some can be seen moving southward in groups of thousands.

Researchers have been able to measure butterfly responses to warming temperatures and gauge the effect of climate changes, due to global warming and increasing population. It has been found, through research, that to find the temperatures they need butterflies to seek new habitats. Worldwide, the majority of native butterflies are leaving their natural homes and taking up residence in places with cooler average temperatures, as a result of local climate warming.

Whether the species is exotic or local, butterflies constitute one of nature’s most beautiful and fragile creatures. As dependent as they are upon global changes, humanity is equally dependent upon them for their pollinating abilities and aesthetic beauty. They survive within the confines of a steady balance between nature’s cruel cycles and man’s wanton disregard for anything except his own ambitions. What future is left for these gorgeous flying creatures, few are capable of telling, but one thing is sure, without them, the world is a much less colorful place.