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Poor Will's Almanack: February 23 – March 1, 2021

butterfly on a leaf
Raffo Márk
/
Flickr Creative Commons

Poor Will’s Almanack for the Second Week of Early Spring, the third week of the Great Groundhog Moon, the first full week of the sun in Pisces

Last month, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that 2020 had tied with 2016 as the warmest year for the planet.

Where I live in southwestern Ohio, the average temperature for the year was within a degree of the warmest on record.

And even though most events in nature – like the blooming of plants and the migration of birds – seemed to happen the way they always have, I noticed a disturbing absence of butterflies.

I wasn’t alone. My backyard notes for this past summer reflect the dramatic decline of butterflies in Ohio, almost 30 percent over the average numbers during the past 20 years, according to Jerome Wiedmann of the Ohio Lepidopterist Society.

These statistics dovetail with and support the findings of studies made in Europe and North America that suggest that butterfly disappearance parallels that of insects, in general, at the rate of about two percent per year.

Since butterflies are among the most monitored species, scientists believe they are the canary in the ecological coal mine for other insects.

Recent literature suggests that global warming, habitat deterioration, pesticides and other forms of pollution all contribute to defaunation, the die-off of species. No solutions to any of these problems are likely in the near future. The math, however, is not too complex. Even a best-case scenario? fifty years times two percent equals no butterflies by 2070 (probably much much sooner).

And as butterflies go, so go the other insects. And then the birds and then, maybe, people.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the third week of Early Spring. In the meantime, the first butterflies of the year may soon appear on warm days. Look for them and love them. Plant butterfly gardens. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides. Agitate for change.

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.