I first became aware of the book “The Last Butterflies: A Scientist’s Quest to Save a Rare and Vanishing Creature” thanks to a piece on NPR. Being a lover of Lepidoptera, I thought this would be an interesting book as it dealt with declining numbers in the butterfly world, a subject that has been on my mind a lot. I wasn’t sure what to expect as some of these books can be over-scientific, making it difficult to read. I am happy to report that this book is written so that everyone can enjoy it.
Butterflies, by far, are the most popular insects in the world. They are also one of the most sensitive animals in the world as well when it comes to changes in the environment. This could be anything from changes in the physical landscape to climate change. The lack of butterflies in places where they were once abundant is a real sign that there is something wrong.
Nick Haddad, a professor and senior terrestrial ecologist in the Department of Integrative Biology and the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University, has spent years studying different species of butterflies, trying to figure out what is causing the declines of certain species and what can be done to fix it, if possible. In this book he discusses the status six of the world’s rarest butterflies: Bay Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha bayensis), Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi), Crystal Skipper (Atrytonopsis quinteri), Miami Blue (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri), St. Francis’ Satyr (Neonympha mitchellii francisci) and Schaus’ Swallowtail (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus).
For each species, Haddad travels to where they are known to still survive. Him and his team research what physical changes, if anything have been made to the environment. They study things such as the introductions of non-native plants, habitat loss due to construction or weather and even how other animals that may have since become established in an area may contribute. Then they attempt to “fix” the problem, with a combination of raising the butterflies under controlled circumstances to be released later or by trying to reclaim areas, trying to bring them back to their original glory. The results may be mixed but the thought processes by what they did will be invaluable looking at other species of butterflies down the road.
This book opened my eyes up to a lot of what is happening in the world, and not just with butterflies. It also gave me a whole new perspective when it comes to butterfly gardening, especially in the importance of use of only native plants. One very concerning chapter was that on the Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, whose numbers have been greatly declining in recent years.
Though this book is about a very sad situation, it does give us hope. We all have played a part in the declines and certainly can be the change needed to help them back. Every species on earth deserves to live here and as such, the entire human race needs to stop being so selfish when it comes to the earth’s resources. When nature goes, we go.