Why are butterflies important?
An abundance of butterfly numbers and species signals that ecosystems are healthy. We are well advised to keep an eye on these indicators and ensure that our environment remains in or improves to good conditions sustaining our natural wealth.
For many oplants insects are important pollinators. In their pursuit of sugar-rich nectar butterflies visit flower after flower. While not feeding on pollen, they carry it on their bodies, ensuring the reproduction of plants and their genetic health. While bees may be considered to be the more efficient pollinators, butterflies achieve significant results by visiting more flowers.
Butterflies are a vital part of the food chain. Their caterpillars are gourmet food for a variety of predators. Juicy larvae are a favourite of birds. Most insectivorous birds need caterpillars to sustain themselves, especially breeding and feeding their offspring. Spiders, wasps and others have them on their menu too.
Flower spiders love to camouflage and wait for nectar drinking adult butterflies like the skipper butterfly depicted above. A jumping frog may catch them, and a dragonfly is likely to attack if the opportunity arises. Moths, butterflies' close nocturnal relatives, are a much thought after food source for echolocating bats.
Looking after lepidoptera provides benefits for the wider natural world. A decrease in butterfly and moth numbers will interfere with the food chain and lead to a decline in the number of other species.
Butterflies' role as important environmental indicators is also based on their sensitivity and their prompt response to habitat changes as well as to climatic variations.
Because of their role as bioindicators, butterflies are well placed to represent other fauna species. They can indicate changes in environmental health.
We all want our butterflies to thrive. To understand how Brisbane's species are faring, let's all be citizen scientists, let's count them and plant for them.
Image of the White-banded Line-blue (Nacaduba kurava) by Sylvia Alexander