Harsh Winter Was Tough On Butterfly Population, Study Says

(CBS) — Thought you were done hearing about the side effects from our harsh winter? Well, not so fast.

Researchers say there could be – involving butterflies.

CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports.

It’s a welcome summer sight: butterflies fluttering from flower to flower. But we could be seeing less of them.

A study released today points a finger at road salt.

According to the study, researchers from University of Minnesota found butterflies that were fed a high-sodium diet only had a 10 percent survival rate, compared to a 40 percent to 50 percent survival rate for butterflies that were fed low-to-medium sodium diets.

At the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Butterfly Haven, the findings were not surprising to Curator of Biology Doug Taron.

“Increasingly, roadsides are becoming important habitat for butterflies,so anything that is going to compromise the roadsides is going to further put pressure on butterfly populations,” he says.

“The chain of events is salt to plants; to caterpillars, to adult butterflies,” he adds.

Some enjoying the exhibit found the news disturbing.

“It’s terrible.  There must be another solution besides the salt, you would think, that they could use that would be less harmful,” visitor Sherri Gregorczyk says.

Taron says butterflies need sodium, and a moderate increase could be beneficial, but too much can be toxic.

He points out that the museum’s butterflies wont’ be affected because they’re tropical, and the vegetation they feed on isn’t found in the Midwest.

As for the lab study, Taron says more needs to be done.

And that’s exactly what the researchers are hoping to do. This was a very small study, and they would like to expand it include more butterflies and different types of roadways and areas.

“Certainly it’s cause for concern, but really to answer that type of question you would need to directly do a field study on this,” he says.



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