Impacts of mild winter unclear for nonmigratory pollinators
Minnesota’s streak of warm weather continues, and people are enjoying the outdoors. Some plants are even starting to bud, but what impact is the mild season having on local insects?
“Honestly, our native insects are adapted to crazy shifts in temperature. That’s what Minnesota is known for,” said Cale Nordmeyer, a butterfly conservation specialist at the Minnesota Zoo.
Nordmeyer has been working behind the scenes to preserve two endangered species of butterflies, the Poweshiek skipperling and the Dakota skipper. Unlike others, these butterflies don’t migrate and stay the winter in Minnesota.
“As half-grown caterpillars, they would be out in the Minnesota prairies in normal years, covered in snow underneath that snowpack,” Nordmeyer said.
A snowpack has been hard to come by this year, but the impact of the lack of snow and mild temperatures remains unclear.
“How resilient are they to different climate conditions? Because certainly, this isn’t what they’ve been historically adapted to,” Nordmeyer said.
At the zoo, they keep these butterflies alive by recreating the conditions they’d experience under the snow, but they can’t do that in the wild, or for other butterflies, bees and pollinators.
“What’s different this year is that there isn’t that nice, insulating snowpack. So we don’t know what that’s going to look like moving forward,” Nordmeyer said.