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Southern Butterflies Moving to Massachusetts

A recent report shows that more Southern species of butterflies are moving their way into New England, which could be a possible indicator of climate change. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

The study conducted by Harvard Forest shows that butterflies typically found in the Southern portions of the United States are becoming more common in Massachusetts. Greg Breed, author of the report, says that the species are native to the United States and are finding a primary entrance to Massachusetts through the Connecticut River valley.

The data used for the study was collected by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club, a group that has been observing butterflies for two decades. Steven Moore, president of the club, says that he’s heard reports of butterfly species such as the Giant Swallowtail showing an impressive growth in numbers.

Moore said that four or five years ago, you couldn’t have found the Giant Swallowtail in Massachusetts. He said other species too, including one called the Zabulon Skipper, are increasing rapidly.

He also added that he thinks the shift in the butterfly community could be due to milder winters in recent years.

Greg Breed said that the shifts in butterfly populations could be indicative of climate change.

According to the study, 17 out of 21 known northern-adapted butterfly species in Massachusetts are dropping in numbers. Strong increases in Southern species were also found in Southeastern Massachusetts, along with the Pioneer Valley.  For areas like the Berkshires, which contain higher elevations and some areas of cooler temperatures compared with the Connecticut River valley, the more typical species of butterflies were more common.

Breed added that he couldn’t say if the shift is good or bad, but for the butterflies, things are definitely changing.

The original report published in Nature Climate Change can be read here:


Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.