Climate change delaying emergence of Ohio butterflies

Findings could help predict effects of environmental changes over the next several decades.
TNS Regional News
May 21, 2014


Increased temperatures from climate change and growing urbanization are slowing the development of some native Ohio butterflies, a new study warns.

This could threaten the number of eastern swallowtails and seven other Ohio natives while helping to spread invasive butterfly species, said Sarah Diamond, an assistant professor of biology at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the study published online in the journal Ecology.

Researchers disagree on whether this is good or bad, but say the findings could help predict effects of environmental changes over the next several decades.

“The shifts in life cycle were surprising,” Diamond said. “We’re using butterflies as an indicator for how other things in the ecosystem might be impacted.”

Diamond analyzed 20 species monitored for 13 years by volunteers with Ohio Lepidopterists, a society of butterfly enthusiasts.

Volunteers recorded species numbers from the first week of April through the first week of November at parks across Ohio.

Sites in southern Ohio — which range 2 to 3 degrees warmer than northern sites — simulated the warming that climate-change models predict for the Midwest this century. Butterflies emerged as many as three weeks earlier in southern Ohio than in central and northern Ohio.

“They could be advancing their lifecycle events to take advantage of earlier blooming and flowering,” Diamond said.

But for city dwellers, the added heat from buildings and roads slowed growth by several weeks for eight species, including the eastern tiger swallowtail, pearl crescent and red admiral. Butterflies generally emerge around mid-June, Diamond said, but these species were not emerging until early or mid-July.

“Butterflies need warmth to develop,” she said. “But too much heat — before it kills them — can cause delays.”

The delays might leave the butterflies with less food and time to reproduce, Diamond said, which could shrink local populations.

David Parshall, a former president of Ohio Lepidopterists, disagrees. He said urbanization — replacing fields and flowers with pavement, houses and office buildings — affects butterflies more than an increase in temperature.

“Even if they are developing later in the year ... species have been evolving for thousands of years,” Parshall said. “Weather patterns have always been here.”

If some species are emerging later, they’re doing it for an evolutionary reason, he added, so their numbers shouldn’t suffer.

Invasive species such as the European skipper and cabbage white, which can feed on nectar from a variety of weeds and flowers, are more likely to thrive, experts say. The skipper is emerging a few weeks early — in late May — even in the combined heat of climate change and urbanization.

“If you have a generalist feeder, then it’s not going to be an issue because there are lots of host plants to choose from,” said Norman Johnson, an Ohio State University entomologist and director of the museum’s Triplehorn insect collection.

“But if you have a specialist that develops too early or late and gets out of sync with its host plant — that’s going to be bad.”

There’s no proof that butterflies are losing sync with their host plants, but the data suggest it could be happening, Diamond said.

The spicebush swallowtail, pearl crescent, little wood nymph and eastern tailed blue butterflies, which all have specific host plants, were among the most delayed, she said. This suggests they were shifting their lifecycles to try to track their host plants.

“Since it’s harder to track a single plant species rather than an entire suite of different species that butterflies can choose among, there is greater potential for asynchrony in specialist butterflies,” Diamond said.

And because these specialists are shifting toward emerging later in the year rather than earlier, they’re losing a competitive edge.

“There’s also the potential for predators that butterflies usually don’t encounter suddenly co-occurring with them,” Diamond said, which could disrupt the food chain.

The shifts in development will likely expand.

“Our projections are current levels of urbanization and projected climate change over the next 50 or so years, but obviously the climate will continue to warm,” she said. “I think there is potential for exacerbation of these impacts.”

Diamond said her findings are applicable nationwide, though Ohio has the most intensive butterfly-monitoring records in the United States.

The next phase of research will include setting up growth chambers in her lab to simulate environmental conditions, such as climate change and urbanization, to track temperature triggers.


By Jessica White - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services



I get it, everything that goes wrong is climate change and if not for the republican party we wouldn't have climate change


If not for the Republican Party we would have already had a balanced budget and a surplus, You know just like Clinton did.

But Boner is orange so thats cool too


Re: "just like Clinton did."

Caused by increased tax revenue due to Y2K cap-ex spending and a Repub Congress that held down spending.


Yes Republican Congress, So when is the last time a Republican president left office with a balanced budget?

It burns you to admit you are wrong and it tastes so good to see you get upset


Re: " when is the last time Republican president left office with a balanced budget?"


The Dems aren't worth a sh*t either. LBJ had to steal the Soc. Sec. trust fund to "balance" it.


So why didnt the Republican Congress/Republican House and Republican President do better from 2000-2006 when they held everything?

Yet they pee'd it away.

Its almost as if your story does not coincide with reality.

Why do you think that is?


Re: "they pee'd it away."

2000 Tech Wreck (recession) and 9.11 Sport.


Climate change is real and has been going on for millions of years , just ask the dinosaurs, opps, can't find one?
Global warming was invented by the Democrats to make money from taxation. They can't seem to stay within a budget, opps, they don't have one.
Want to get rid of that carbon, plant trees, the Earths canopy is gone.


Maybe the mayor could have claimed that climate change made him park in the handicap parking. It was raining you know lol


Re: "growing urbanization,"

In order to fix this part of the "global warming" issue, it's time for the Democrats to adapt the direction of Pol Pot's murderous regime and forcibly move those city dwellers into rural work & re-education camps.


Cant even think for yourself. Copying and pasting spam emails.


Re: "Copying and pasting spam emails,"?????

Per usual: If I copied and pasted, it would have quotation marks on the entire paragraph and a link would be provided.

Do you see any?

Don't assume that everyone is as ignorant as you, troll.


Thats the best you got? compare to Pol Pot on a butterfly story?

PS yes its a copy paste. Believe it or not quote marks are not definitive proof of a copy.

You learn your technology at wal mart lol


Re: "yes its a copy paste,"

Prove it Sport.


So..... Back to these butterflies.


Eventually, climate change will be linked to disrupting climate change.
Though climate change is real, the contributing causes are unknown. If you declare otherwise, you're a giant fibbing snake oil salesman.
If you looked hard enough you could find benefits to climate change, though they wouldn't be published.
Climate change lowers cancer risk.


Climate change is only as real as it has always been, winter turns to spring, then Summer then Fall. It gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Actually I remember summers that were so hot we sat on the front porch every day waiting for the sunset and a breeze. I survived a hot hot summer with no air conditioning. Really. It did happen. Some summers were hotter than others and some winters snow was up to the windows. Imagine that. It happened again this winter. Dang! Now the world is ending.


I like the way you think. We had no air conditioning either as kids. My mom would freeze blocks of ice in a dish pan and sit it in front of the fan! LOL Last summer was pretty hot and muggy, the winter was awfully cold and snowy. Just shows that Mother Nature can still kick your butt.


No, banning CFC's lowered cancer risk. They were destroying our protective Ozone layer. Reducing coal burning emissions has lowered lung cancer rates and childhood respiratory disease. Man has created environmental dangers and in the past we ignored special interests and reversed these dangerous effects of irresponsible industries. Anyone who thinks that pouring billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere does not have an impact is fooling themselves. The atmosphere seems infinite, just like our forebears thought of our rivers and streams, but as our knowledge evolves and our population continues to grow, we are starting to realize that the earth is a finite resource. At some point the pollution of the atmosphere will have greater economic impact than doing nothing and the Choke brothers will no longer hold sway.


Nay. That is little more than an apocryphal tale. I will not be party to your learned reason and historical empirical evidence. You, Sir, have your glasses half full.
Dying lowers cancer risk.
Fail. Ball of Whoop.


As if this has never happened before? I am over 70, the world was born before I was. It has all happened before. I have seen it all before, many years ago. It will be here when the graduate students in earth science are retired and old aged. Give me a break. I am getting tired of young people thinking the world is coming to an end just because something happens they don't know about.


A near earth asteroid that is profoundly too near, will end our species long before our carbon footprint pays real dividends. Like the dinasaurs before us, we are cosmically insignificant. Oversold on our third rock impact. It's almost narcissistic.

Brock Lee

it a ice age we all dye like dinasors an turn to oil

Dr. Information

James O'keefe in Cannes and gets behind the what really is going on with all these environmental videos.