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Butterflies in Greenland Shrink Amid Rising Temperatures

posted: 10/07/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
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Arctic butterflies in Greenland are responding interestingly to climate change: they're shrinking.

Over the past two decades, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have hand-measured the wingspans of nearly 4,500 butterflies near Greenland's Zackenberg Research Station. They found that butterfly wingspan has shrunk considerably among both male and female Northern clouded yellow (Colias hecla) and Arctic fritillary (Boloria chariclea) butterflies.

Researchers worry that the insects' smaller bodies could inhibit their ability to adapt to shifting temperatures. Butterflies are particularly sensitive to changes in climate, and shrinking wingspans will likely impact the creatures' ability to travel long distances to more habitable climates.

Arctic fritillary (Boloria chariclea) butterfly
Walter Siegmund/Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, Arctic butterflies already live in some of the world's northernmost latitudes. Thus, they cannot move much further north to escape rising temperatures like species found at lower latitudes can.

"These Arctic species could face severe challenges in response to ongoing rapid climate change," Aarhus senior scientist Toke T. Hoye explains in a news release.

Hoye posits that the shrinking begins at the larval stage. As the temperature rises, a butterfly's metabolism increases accordingly; thus, the larvae need more energy than they are able to obtain during feeding.

"Our results indicate that this change is so significant that larval growth rate decreases. And when the larvae are smaller, the adult butterflies will also be smaller," Hoye adds.

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