Butterflies - along with moths - are insects belonging to the Order Lepidoptera. It is estimated that there are 180,000 species of the order globally, so a sampled assessment of 1,500 species of ‘true’ butterflies (Superfamily Papilionoidea) is currently being carried out in collaboration with the IUCN SSC Butterfly Specialist Group . Assessments for around 300 species have already been completed (Lewis & Senior (2011) Journal of Insect Conservation 15: 121-128) .
Butterflies are found on every continent except Anarctica, are the largest group of pollinators after bees, and can migrate over huge distances – the famous migration of the Monarch butterfly from Mexico to North America is a distance of about 2,500-3,000 miles. However, because their life cycle includes a larval caterpillar, a pupal stage and a winged adult form, threats to the species group are manifold and affect individuals at different or multiple stages of their life cycle.
Habitat destruction and degradation threaten both food resources and protective areas suitable for larval growth. The agricultural intensification of grasslands in Europe has disrupted the plant structure and type of plants that individual butterfly species need to breed and feed upon, and the resulting habitat fragmentation reduces the ability of butterflies to disperse to other areas, and causes sub-populations to die out. Further threats include pollution (e.g. pesticides), parasites and disease, and the use of genetically modified crops.