Are We Near A "Tipping Point" For Rare Species Of Butterflies?

Jul 6, 2019

Credit Melissa McGaw

Professor Nick Haddad says some butterflies and insects are declining at an alarming rate. Haddad, who is also senior terrestrial ecologist at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners says “habitat is part of that, climate change is probably part of that, but we don’t know the one smoking gun to stop that decline.” Haddad is the author of a new book on rare butterflies.


In The Last Butterflies: A Scientist’s Quest to Save a Vanishing Creature, Haddad chronicles the stories of eight butterflies. Most are rare, one is extinct, and one was thought to be extinct for nearly 50 years. Haddad says he wasn’t a butterfly collector as a child. He studied birds as an undergraduate. When he started graduate school, he had a chance to go to Guatemala.

“I was dropped off in the woods with three things, a tent, a mountain bike and a butterfly net.”

Haddad says he was there for two years, and was told to collect everything.

“And I loved it, I love collecting things.”

While a few species of butterfly have gone extinct, Haddad says he doesn’t know of one that’s gone extinct since he started doing research. He calls that “one piece of good news,” but Haddad says there are species at small population sizes that is cause for alarm.

Extended interview with Nick Haddad in WMUK's WestSouthwest podcast

The Fender’s Blue was discovered in 1932, and was thought to be extinct in 1937. Haddad says 50 years later a 12 year old butterfly collector, caught one small blue butterfly that looked different. When experts saw the butterfly, they concluded that the Fender’s Blue was not extinct after all. The British Large Blue is extinct, and Haddad says he’s quite sure it really is no longer in existence.

Haddad says he worries about reaching a “tipping point” where several species of butterfly begin going extinct. However, he says it’s not too late to reverse course, “but we are at a critical point.” Haddad says he is an optimist by nature. He says the book tries to focus on the scientists and people involved in conservation who are working to bring butterfly populations back.

“I really do see signs that we can acquire that knowledge and then apply that to restoration.”