Butterfly Basics: What is so important about butterflies?

 Male Pink Cattleheart

Male Pink Cattleheart

Every now and then somebody will ask me what is the big deal about butterflies.  Usually, I don't think it is because they don't know but rather they think other people in the audience won't know and it is their way of bringing up the topic.  So, why are butterflies important?

Butterflies are pollinators.  Pollinators not so much for plants that us humans consume as food, as that is largely the responsibility of bees and wind, but butterflies do pollinate many of our wild plants.  Milkweeds, bergamots, and joe pye weeds are frequently pollinated by butterflies.

Butterflies (and moths) are nature's little pruners.  These creatures do perform services to encourage new growth in trees and other plants.  

Butterflies, perhaps most significantly, provide food for other creatures.  One of the best spring time foods for nesting birds is butterflies and moths, and their caterpillars.  In the spring, baby birds do not need carbohydrates (seeds and fruits) as much as they need protein (bugs).

Butterflies also serve as the "canary in the coal mine" in terms of environmental issues.  Frequently butterfly population declines can warn us that something is out of balance in the environment.  As example, a rare butterfly in Florida is the Miami Blue.  This butterfly wasn't always rare.  It became rare as people began to dump their unwanted iguanas into the Everglades.  How can iguanas possibly have anything to do with butterflies?  The iguana's favorite food in the Everglades happens to be the host plant of the Miami Blue.  And iguanas are gobbling up Miami Blue eggs and caterpillars faster than they can be laid.

I will also offer another reason why butterflies are important, although I know some will disagree which is fine.  They're important because the good Lord made them.  They are a part of a delicate balance that operates completely self-sustainably without human interference.  God looked at butterflies and said they were good.  I will do the same!