Monday, March 28, 2016

What's with all these butterflies?

Earlier this month, the world of scientists had some breaking news.  Scientists -- well, lepidopterists, specifically - discovered a new species of butterfly.  What's kind of interesting is that they didn't find the butterfly because it landed on someone's arm.. but rather because some scientist organizing specimens for a butterfly exhibit in a Florida museum, found a butterfly specimen that didn't quite match the tag.

So.. with a bit of a bugle fanfare.. let me introduce to you...  The Tanana Arctic!
Photo by Andrew Warren

Not impressed?  Well let me tell you more.   This pretty little butterfly lives in Alaska.  Not only does it live in Alaska, but that is the ONLY place it lives.  To be honest, I had no idea that there were any butterflies living in Alaska.  Although, in all fairness, it's not much of a life. The Tanana Arctic... I'll call her Ana for short ...  emerges in late May... sips nectar for a month or so and dies off by July. 

By now, you're probably thinking that something must have happened recently -- global warming or something similar - - to create this new species... So let me set you straight.  Scientists have proof that Ana has been around since at least the mid 1950s... but the general concensus is that Ana evolved from a rare hybrid resulting from a butterfly mating that took place some time prior to the last ice age.  Ana was able to remain undercover for so long, because of a striking similarity to other butterfly species... but DNA testing has proven that the two similar butterflies are indeed different.  Which means that instead of about 20,000 different types of butterflies, now we have about 20,001 different types of butterflies.

So now, you're thinking .. Wow.. I guess butterflies must be much more hardy and durable than I'd realized.  And once again, you would be wrong.  One reason why scientists are so excited about this new discovery is because butterflies are sensitive to climate changes, and react rapidly to those changes.  So if we start seeing Ana in places other than Alaska that means... hmmmm, well I'm not quite sure what it means, but it's important.

I know I don't normally share news from the world of science with you.. but I received a message from a friend on Sunday morning, alerting me to this  (thank you, Gail!)... and then messages from a number of other people later in the day, and into today.. telling me of this new discovery.  

Why are people flocking to share this news with me?

Because - also earlier this month - I published a science fiction novel entitled The Weatherman.  The cover of the book has some large monarch butterflies on it, and the short summary on the back of the book includes the line "What's with all these butterflies?"  

No, I don't intend to use teapot musings as a billboard... but this is quite an amusing coincidence.  

So I'll sit here, and drink my tea, and ponder the significance of the factual discovery of Ana, at the same time I published the fictional The Weatherman.  Hmmm... maybe I'll have to give Ana a starring role in the sequel.

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