Two Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies (black phase on left) sip nectar from phlox blooms. Numerous Georgia homeowners report a scarcity of the butterflies this season. CONTRIBUTED BY ELLEN HONEYCUTT

Low butterfly numbers a concern this season

Where are the butterflies? That’s what numerous folks in Atlanta and other areas of Georgia are asking because of what they say is a scarcity of butterflies this season.

“I have noticed a significant drop in the number of butterflies all through June,” said my friend Ellen Honeycutt, an avid gardener in Cherokee County who writes a blog on Georgia’s native plants. She told me this week that two of her garden flowers — summer phlox and buttonbush buckeye — are in full bloom but luring few butterflies.

“Normally, they would be covered with Eastern tiger swallowtails,” she said.

Henning von Schmeling, who keeps track of butterflies at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, said he also has noticed lower numbers of the colorful insects this season. The usual diversity of butterfly species is present, he said, but the numbers of individuals belonging to those species are noticeably down.

In general, several factors may cause butterfly declines, including prolonged rainy weather, habitat loss and misuse of herbicides and pesticides.

Although it’s difficult to pin down a specific reason for this season’s low numbers, Von Schmeling said that a wet spring likely played a role. “Butterflies hate wet weather,” he said.

He said he is not overly concerned yet about this season’s fewer butterflies. Butterflies, he noted, are remarkably resilient and populations can rebuild quickly. July through September is prime time for the insects in Georgia.

Nevertheless, he noted, there is growing alarm worldwide over the long-term future of butterflies because of widespread pesticide use, climate change and other threats. A recent study in Ohio, for instance, shows the total butterfly abundance there has declined by 33% over 20 years. A study in the UK shows that since 1990 butterfly numbers have fallen by 27%  on farmland and by 58% in woods.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be full on Tuesday — the “Ripe Corn“ moon as the Cherokee peoples called July’s full moon. Mars is very low in the west at dusk. Jupiter is in the east around dusk and will appear near the moon tonight. Saturn rises in the east at about midnight and will appear near the moon on Monday night.

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