Musings of a Malcontent: The Devil is in the Details (or why butterflies are moving North)

Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) World“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

It’s all about the little things.

Boy is that true. Unsure where I first heard such a thing, but over 43 years of life it has proven to be spot on. How many relationships have been saved by remembering some small detail, adding an extra touch at just the right moment to win your lover’s heart? How many disasters have been avoided because someone caught one tiny element that was out of place? I am sure we all have stories.

We move so fast it is easy to miss the small cues that something is changing, shifting before our eyes. Thankfully there are a few people slowing down enough to track what is happening to the world around us. I know I usually rag on the scientists in this post, but this week I am thankful for a few of these folks.

Two weeks ago I read an Associated Press article that woke me right up. It was literally talking about the little things. In the journal Science there is research demonstrating that about 2,000 species of plants, insects and animals that scientists have been tracking are shifting their homes to cooler climates faster than they were a decade ago. They are relocating at an average of 15 feet a day, or about a mile a year. They are also moving higher up.

Hmm. I wonder why?Initially you might be thinking, “So what? What is the big deal about a butterfly relocating its home a mile every year? They got wings after all.” This is true. They can fly. They are also very small. Might not be such a big deal for Mothra, but for the Purple Emperor Butterfly it’s a different story.

Let’s do an experiment. Right now, go outside. Find a point that is a mile from your house and walk to it. Not too difficult, since we have legs and such, but still a distance. Now imagine being a small insect that crawls, or a plant, and think of the work it would take to make such a relocation. You would have to be motivated – very motivated.

Death is a good motivator.

What amazes me is that these creatures know what to do. They do not get CNN. They do not read blogs about the environment. Al Gore is not taking them out to a high-powered fundraiser. They just know something is up and they are doing something about it. Despite smaller brains and no ability to produce their own rap album, they are still clearly smarter than us.

The article in Science collected studies from various locations in the Northern Hemisphere. This data paired with climate tracking shows us that this shift is not unique to just one region. As you all likely know, this is important because it demonstrates the warming trends are a global issue. This is good since we need all the help we can get.

One of the scientists interviewed described how he was seeing this migration affect his own life. Recently he returned to his boyhood home of Cuckmere Valley in southern  England. He was greeted everywhere by the presence of egrets, who are now migrating to the region. As a child he would never have seen such a thing. “All the ditches have little egrets. It was just a bizarre sight.”

Bizarre all right. It made me wonder what it will take for us to start taking notice. Penguins setting up nests on Alcatraz? Or along 5th Avenue?  Kangaroos hopping around Omaha? Exotic tropical birds becoming as numerous as pigeons? Before too long you will not have to travel to the Galapagos to see all the interesting species and creatures – they will be foraging in your back yard.

Good times.

One would have thought all the floods, tornados, soaring heat and earthquakes would have been enough to get us focused. I guess not.

Luckily Canada has a lot of open space.

Image source: The Alopecian Muse

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  1. Well, your heart’s in the right place, but your science leaves quite a bit to be desired. Climates are moving north first and flora and fauna are following, not because of a fear of death, but because of opportunism. Death avoidance would entail species migrating away from the (presumably) hostile environments at the southern edges of their range. I have seen no studies yet that have shown that butterflies are no longer inhabiting the southern extent of their ranges, though I would guess that adaptation would skew the data.
    “Penguins setting up nests on Alcatraz” A moments’ thought would have given you plenty of pause before writing that. There may be some or many species moving to Alcatraz, but, sadly, penguins will not be included. When their cold environment warms, penguins are goners.
    And I highly recommend reading about or watching some of the excellent videos about the Galapagos’ natural history, not just to fact check your migration predictions, but also because it is a fascinating and unique story.

    • Hi Bob,
      Thanks much for the comment. I think you’re really missing the point of Carlyle’s piece: Irony. You take it much too literally. Especially the point about Penguins on Alcatraz. Do you really think he meant that literally?


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