ives butterfly bursts in Europe
They say a butterfly’s wing could change the weather. How is the weather changing butterflies?
Half a century ago, the late meteorologist Edward Lorenz observed that a small change in a complex system can have far-reaching consequences. He coined the phrase “the butterfly effect” to describe this phenomenon, suggesting that the flap of a butterfly’s wing could change the weather.
But sometimes it’s the weather that changes butterflies.
In a study published this week, scientists suggest that rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa, which controls the growth of vegetation, has a dramatic impact on the number of painted lady butterflies that summer in Europe — more than 4,000 miles away.
These butterflies, which are as colorful as their name suggests, complete the longest known migration circuit of any insect, from Scandinavia down to just below the Sahara desert, the authors write. And when vegetation there is abundant during the winter, more butterflies seem to arrive in Europe months later.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study tells of a remarkable and daring migration. But more importantly, it shows that ecosystems across the world are connected in ways we’re only just beginning to understand. And those connections raise questions about how a changing climate will affect threatened migratory species — and pests.
A butterfly mystery
With splotchy orange and black wings, tipped with dabs of white, the painted lady butterfly is sometimes confused for the famous monarch that makes an epic migration from the US and Canada to central Mexican forests — though it’s attracted far less attention than its charismatic look-alike. That’s perhaps because it’s so commonplace: The painted lady is the most widespread butterfly on Earth, found on all continents except South America and Antarctica.
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