The Last Butterflies: A Scientist's Quest to Save a Rare and Vanishing Creature

The Last Butterflies: A Scientist's Quest to Save a Rare and Vanishing Creature

by Nick Haddad


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A remarkable look at the rarest butterflies, how global changes threaten their existence, and how we can bring them back from near-extinction

Most of us have heard of such popular butterflies as the Monarch or Painted Lady. But what about the Fender’s Blue? Or the St. Francis’ Satyr? Because of their extreme rarity, these butterflies are not well-known, yet they are remarkable species with important lessons to teach us. The Last Butterflies spotlights the rarest of these creatures—some numbering no more than what can be held in one hand. Drawing from his own first-hand experiences, Nick Haddad explores the challenges of tracking these vanishing butterflies, why they are disappearing, and why they are worth saving. He also provides startling insights into the effects of human activity and environmental change on the planet’s biodiversity.

Weaving a vivid and personal narrative with ideas from ecology and conservation, Haddad illustrates the race against time to reverse the decline of six butterfly species. Many scientists mistakenly assume we fully understand butterflies’ natural histories. Yet, as with the Large Blue in England, we too often know too little and the conservation consequences are dire. Haddad argues that a hands-off approach is not effective and that in many instances, like for the Fender’s Blue and Bay Checkerspot, active and aggressive management is necessary. With deliberate conservation, rare butterflies can coexist with people, inhabit urban fringes, and, in the case of the St. Francis’ Satyr, even reside on bomb ranges and military land. Haddad shows that through the efforts to protect and restore butterflies, we might learn how to successfully confront conservation issues for all animals and plants.

A moving account of extinction, recovery, and hope, The Last Butterflies demonstrates the great value of these beautiful insects to science, conservation, and people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691165004
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 06/25/2019
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 287,328
Product dimensions: 2.00(w) x 3.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nick Haddad is a professor and senior terrestrial ecologist in the Department of Integrative Biology and the W. K. Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University. He lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Twitter @nickmhaddad

Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 A Sliver of Creation 1

Part I The Rarest Butterflies

2 Bay Checkerspot 21

3 Fender's Blue 41

4 Crystal Skipper 65

5 Miami Blue 85

6 St. Francis' Satyr 113

7 Schaus' Swallowtail 144

Part II The Flight Path Forward

8 The Final Flight of the British Large Blue 173

9 Monarchs: The Perils for Abundant Butterflies 187

10 The Last Butterfly? 202

Acknowledgments 217

Notes 221

Illustration Credits 239

Index 241

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The Last Butterflies tells the story of six rare insects and the specific challenges they face. But its lessons are broader than that. The book offers case studies in how conservation efforts can succeed and—just as significantly—how they can fail."—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

"Of all the dire measures of our current descent toward a lonelier planet, none is more heartbreaking than the global decline of butterflies. Butterflies are innocent, butterflies are beautiful—dammit, we need them. Why? For the same reasons we need tigers and blue whales and redwoods—they are part of life’s tapestry and their grace informs our humanity. Haddad’s fine book not only charts the crisis, butterfly by butterfly, but suggests ways to resist it—even reverse it."—David Quammen, author of The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life

"In this magisterial work, Haddad tells the story of his quest to find the rarest butterfly species in the world. This beautiful book is full of the sorrows of loss, but also the wonders of natural history and the power of hope. Haddad spends many hours working to rescue species few have heard of in the hope that they will persist, these emblems of what we are losing and what can still be saved."—Rob Dunn, author of Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live

"Butterflies. Everyone loves them. But what do we really know about their past, present, and future? Haddad has learned quite a lot in a lifetime of studying wild butterflies, and in this timely, important book he gifts us that knowledge in warm, personal prose that puts us right there with him among the beauties and puzzles of the natural world."—Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

“In The Last Butterflies, Haddad provides a close-up view of the insect apocalypse that threatens the future of everyone. He describes in vivid detail and with scientific accuracy the near-extinction of six rare butterflies. Haddad's riveting stories reveal the reason for such fates, including discoveries that will direct the future of butterfly and insect conservation for decades to come.”—Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb and Extinction

“Butterflies are truly fascinating. The topic of this book is superb, the selection of species is clever, and the combination of science, public policy, and personal experiences makes for compelling reading. The Last Butterflies makes a significant contribution to readers’ understanding of conservation science, the importance of biodiversity, and the interplay of scientific research and conservation action.”—David Wilcove, author of The Condor’s Shadow: The Loss and Recovery of Wildlife in America

“In this book, Haddad captures the beauty of butterflies, the science of conservation, and the stories of the people surrounding these rare creatures—collectors, gardeners, historians, students, scientists, and those who just have an avid love for butterflies. The Last Butterflies is a pleasure to read.”—Cheryl Schultz, Washington State University

“At its heart, this book is a journey of passion and curiosity—searching out opportunities to learn about some of the rarest butterflies in the world and more intimately understand their connections to each other and the commonalities of their declines. Haddad presents the story in a highly entertaining, conversational manner that blends details of his experiences with sound science.”—Jaret Daniels, Florida Museum of Natural History

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