Bug apocalypse? Inside a Colorado-based campaign to save insects from extinction — and avert ecological collapse

Butterfly Pavilion becomes hub for restoring habitat, research and a model mini-city for people north of Denver “to live surrounded by life”

Bruce Finley
Denver Post
Scanning for butterflies on her survey route, Elise Willcox circles Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park on Aug. 24.
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK — At a high alpine lake here, researchers with clipboards and pens are conducting painstaking surveys that may be essential for saving butterflies and other insects from extinction.

“Someone has to stand up for the little guy,” Elise Willcox, 29, said on a recent morning as she hiked around it. She was scanning intently — “eyes attuned to anything flying around” — for the fluttering bright wings of wood nymphs, fritillaries, and the Rocky Mountain Parnassian.

“If invertebrates disappear, that’s a big problem for us humans.”

These counts coordinated by the Colorado-based Butterfly Pavilion are part of widening international efforts to deploy a sort of collective radar — beyond what government wildlife agencies do — and monitor insect species declines.  A growing body of scientific evidence shows bugs worldwide are decreasing in abundance and diversity, prompting warnings of an “insect apocalypse.”

Scientists estimate 40% of known species are declining and hypothesize that losses could trigger large-scale ecological collapse. Insects pollinate crops, recycle nutrients, aerate soil and provide the essential base protein in food chains.

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