Common Blue, Kevin Murphy, Mayo 05/06/2010
Common Blue, © Kevin Murphy, Mayo 05/06/2010

What best typifies a mid-summers day in Ireland other than the flash of colour and whimsical flight of our butterflies as they fly through our grasslands, bogs, sand dunes, woodlands, bogs, parks and gardens.  The 35 species of butterfly in Ireland are increasingly under threat from environmental change, primarily driven by both the increasing population size of Ireland and resultant demands on our landscape, and changes in Ireland’s climate.  As outlined by Butterfly Conservation Europe, there are many reasons why butterflies are important:

Aesthetic value

  • Butterflies are part of our natural heritage and have been studied for over 300 years.
  • Butterflies are beautiful, with many being iconic and popular.
  • People like butterflies.
  • There are many references to butterflies in literature, from the Bible through Shakespeare to modern day literature, and from poetry to musical lyrics.
  • Butterflies are used by advertisers and illustrators the world over as way of indicating that something is environmentally friendly.
  • Butterflies are often portrayed as the essence of nature or as representing freedom, beauty or peace.

Ecosystem Value

  • Butterflies are indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystems.
  • They indicate a wide range of other invertebrates, which comprise over two-thirds of all species.
  • Areas rich in butterflies and moths are rich in other invertebrates. These collectively provide a wide range of environmental benefits, including pollination and natural pest control.
  • Moths and butterflies are an important element of the food chain and are prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals (for example, in Britain and Ireland, Blue Tits eat an estimated 50 billion moth caterpillars each year).
  • Butterflies support a range of other predators and parasites, many of which are specific to individual species, or groups of species.
  • Butterflies have been widely used by ecologists as model organisms to study the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation, and climate change.

Educational Value

  • Butterflies and moths have fascinating life-cycles that are used in many countries to teach children about the natural world. The transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis is one of the wonders of nature.
  • Other educational aspects include the intricate wing patterns and iridescence, and as examples of insect migration.

Health Value

  • People enjoy seeing butterflies both around their homes and in the countryside.
  • Over 120 sites are monitored across Ireland each week and collectively our recorders walk 2,700 km each year counting butterflies.
  • Many people garden for wildlife in Ireland, many of them specifically for butterflies and other insects.

Economic value

  • Thousands of people travel abroad each year looking for butterflies and moths. Eco-tours bring income to many European countries and developing countries around the world (e.g. the valley of the butterflies in Rhodes and the Monarch roost in Mexico).
  • Every butterfly and moth has developed its own suite of chemicals to deter predators and parasites, find a mate, and overcome the chemical defences of its host plant. Each of these chemicals has a potential value and could be exploited economically. For example, powerful antibiotics have been found in the Meadow Brown, one of our commonest and most widespread species.

Intrinsic value

  • Butterflies have a right to exist, as much as any other species on the planet.
  • Butterflies have been around for at least 50 million years and probably evolved some 150 million years ago.
  • They are part of Life on Earth and an important component of its rich biodiversity.
  • Butterflies and moths are a highly diverse group comprising over 250,000 species and make up around one quarter of all named species.
  • Butterflies are flagship species for conservation in general, and in particular for invertebrates.

Scientific value

  • Butterflies (and moths to a lesser extent) are an extremely important group of ‘model’ organisms used, for centuries, to investigate many areas of biological research, including such diverse fields as navigation, pest control, embryology, mimicry, evolution, genetics, population dynamics and biodiversity conservation.
  • The long history and popularity of butterfly study have provided a unique data resource on an insect group unmatched in geographical scale and time-scale anywhere in the world. This has proved extremely important for scientific research on climate change.