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In the middle of a butterfly crisis, California sees a burst of painted ladies (latimes.com)
70 points by curtis 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments





Just to be clear, the butterfly crisis is not the sudden abundance of painted ladies, it's the drastic decline in all other butterfly species (including painted ladies, with this year being a notable exception).

Insect populations are in decline worldwide. I can add a personal anecdotal data point to this: we were in Africa on safari ten years ago. As you would expect, there were bugs everywhere. We just got back from a similar trip, revisiting some of the same places we had been before. There were hardly any insects at all, even in the rain forest.

Personally, that scares the hell out of me.


I lived in the country for the first 20 years of my life.

Insect populations varied wildly year by year. Like hugely wildly. One year it would be tons, swallowing bugs as you'd cycle, the next you'd hardly notice them.

Little anecdotes like yours are honestly not meaningful as you don't realise just how variable these things are naturally.


Yes, my anecdote in isolation means nothing. But it's not in isolation. This is a real world-wide phenomenon:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeti...


Yes, but not to the degree of your anecdote. You observed the background cycles of insect population variation.

No person is in a position to observe the next effect of population decreases across many such cycles.


> You observed the background cycles of insect population variation.

They openly described their statement as an anecdote.

Meanwhile, you're making a pretty conclusive statement here, without any apparent evidence for it. How do you know their observed reduction in insect population is "background cycle" and not the global reductions scientists have been empirically observing?


Just for the record, I also asked several locals if they noticed fewer insects. They all said yes, that the change had been dramatic over the last few years.

Because no person can conclusively observe statistical effects, of this kind, in this way.

It's really hard to conclude "the insect population is dropping" by being one person in one environment once. Even by being multiple people, even over time.

That's why science exists. And it's really difficult (eg., cf., the replication crisis).


The poster simply indicated they'd experienced an anecdotal situation that matches closely with the scientifically observed declines.

You have to really misread the comment you replied to in order to claim it stated it was "conclusively observing statistical effects".


Please read the article:

> A monarch count led by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in November found only 28,429 of the iconic orange-and-black insects wintering along the California coast. That figure represents an 85% drop from the previous year and a 99.4% plunge compared with 40 years ago.

> “In our grove alone we would have 250,000 monarchs in the 1980s,” said Danielle Bronson, a state park interpreter at Pismo State Beach. “This season we had about 3,000 at our peak.”

> Other butterfly populations have been hit even worse.

> At least 20 species are disappearing faster than the monarch, said Matt Forister, an ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno.

> They include the large marble butterfly (Euchloe ausonides), the field crescent (Phyciodes campestris campestris), the west coast lady (Vanessa annabella), the common sooty wing (Pholisora catullus) and the California ringlet (Coenonympha tullia california).

It is more than a boom and bust issue, although for painted ladies it does seem to be a cycle:

> Even the painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) appeared to be suffering as recently as last year. In 2018, Shapiro counted just 27 of the butterflies at the 10 sites he monitors on a regular basis. A year earlier, that number was 512.


yeah , except that in this case, he is on to something.. dismissing the emotion and the anecdotal evidence seems super-convenient

Convenient for whom?

A year or two back we had a super bloom of Joshua Trees at the eponymous park and one of the rangers said that while yes, it's a beautiful sight, it's also a little scary, because they only do that when they're under extreme stress, it's a sign of them almost giving up hope. I hope what we're seeing with the butterflies isn't a similar dying gasp.

I was lucky to see this yesterday, and it was one of the most magical things I've seen in a very long time.

Every time I thought that they'd finish passing by me, another wave of them would come. It was relentless and awesome.


They are amazing. With this gentle river of butterflies meandering across LA's clear, blue, hospitable sky you can forget everything from your little piece of sidewalk and just stare into nature's magical distance till the exact instant you're hit by some idiot's muscle car.

Update: they're still flying through!

Every time you spend a dollar/euro/etc on non-organic produce, food and external products made with pesticide-sprayed stuff, and most animal products, you are using the most important vote you have to support the practices that are causing the butterfly decline.

You are only 2-5 money steps removed from the process of spraying pesticides all over these butterflies' environment.


I've become a bit jaded about getting foods labelled "Organic". Plus organic food is damned expensive, which places it in the category of a luxury. I see no evidence that my organic food dollars are doing anything other than lining the pockets of the food distribution industry. Better might be to do everything we can to ensure a well functioning government that is observing the damage to the environment from pesticides and making well reasoned policy adjustments to how those pesticides are approved, used, monitored, and disposed of.

"Organic" labeling is the victim of regulatory capture. eg raise the bar via organic certification, thereby favoring the bigger players.

Same as it ever was.

I mostly buy bulk and staples (less processed foods). Also favor local, co-ops, and farmers markets. But it's not very practical. I wish I had better options, strategies.


If you believe organic foods are not sprayed with pesticides you have been wildly misled. They typically require higher quantities of pesticides than non-organic crops, due to the lesser effectiveness of organic pesticides. And those pesticides are often effective for significantly longer than their non-organic counterparts.

you may find this four part series on pesticide use on organic farms to be interesting: https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2018/05/21/do-organic-far...

Thank you for this. I’ll try to keep an open mind while reading it.

That was a great read, thank you.

Depends on where you live etc.

Around here the branding is "økologisk" and based on what I read here I think it is quite a bit stricter than the US (but I only grew up on a farm, worked on farms and spent a few months in farming school. I haven't practiced farming for 20 years and I didn't specialize in ecologic farming.)


Yeah, but what pesticide? I don't really mind if my food get sprayed with lots of ethanol, lemon juice, or soap, which are three organic-approved pesticides.

This article may give you some information on that with links to the full list on the USDA site. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2011/06/18/1372492...

One of the studies showing insect loss was done in Puerto Rico, where pesticide use has gone down in the last several decades, one of the few places in the world with that pattern. The current primary hypothesis is that the increased in temperature cause issues with their internal chemistry, but there is disagreement. More about it here: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/...

We cannot use organic farming to feed the world population at it's current size. Food production has multiple requirements, and land use is the weakness of organic farming.

The best way to reduce land use, climate altering gasses, pesticide use, and pollution, in agriculture is, hands down, eliminating meat from your diet. This is because about 70% of all agricultural land use in the US for to producing meat. By eliminating meat production it had been suggested that we can cut agricultural land use by 40-50%. This article is a good starting point for more information: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160926-what-would-happen-i...

In order to help rebuild insect environments, I would recommend trying to expand The range of local plant life in your area, starting with your lawn if you have one.


I'd lay odds it will just be the usual cause - habitat loss. These insects evolved to inhabit in wild environment. Now we moved most of it over to monoculture.

There is actually a good documented example. https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/55/1/80/248302

Back when I was young locust plagues were a thing. They wiped out vast areas crop land. We they came near the cities the eat the washing on the line.

I noticed they were dropping off. Now I haven't heard about a locust plague anywhere in at least a decade. Which was odd, because when they were happening we spent huge amounts of money trying to control them. Planes would fly through the things dispensing insecticide, but it wasn't terribly effective because the insect bodies with pile up inside the engines causing them to over heat. In fact nothing we did seem to have much effect.

What wiped them out was changes in land use. Part of their life cycle was burring their eggs just below the surface on fertile grass land. Planting crops wasn't a killer issue for them - but ploughing was. Eventually we converted all those locust breeding grounds to crop land, and once we did that they were gone.

They are gone forever now - extinct. If you read the article you can see we were triumphant over eliminating a major pest for a while. Now, not so much.


A year and a half ago there was an explosion of them in Minnesota as well. Last summer though I don't remember if I saw any at all.

https://www.dpreview.com/galleries/3708563345/photos/3677554...


It was pretty amazing to see today driving on the I-10. :) It's nice to see at least some bugs in the sky for a change.

I remember when a horde of Painted Ladies took over Bullhead City AZ for a day back in the 90s. So amazing to watch.

Butterfly populations fluctuate wildly over the decades, there's no "butterfly crisis". We've already seen such declines followed by huge population bursts after some time. There's no reason to speculate that this won't happen again.

There is butterfly species crisis, many are endangered and will go extinct soon.

At the same time there's no butterfly quantity crisis.

I wonder about journalists writing news titles, are they stupid, or do they pretend they are?


Think of the truth as a salmon trying to spawn, and all the challenges that beset it.

Miscommunication, misunderstanding is the norm. We just have to power thru it.


Yeah, a lot of people similarly bury their heads in the sand.



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