Nightly News   |  September 11, 2012

Southern butterflies shifting to warmer north

Warm climate butterflies are spending more and more time in Massachusetts. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> there's been a news story developing lately in the commonwealth of massachusetts , but to see it, to fully take it in, you have to slow down, get off the grid and be very quiet. it's like the old expression about stopping to smell the roses. but in this case, it's about butterflies. and these butterflies may be on to something bigger than even massachusetts . we get the story tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent, anne thompson .

>> reporter: in this lush garden of verbena, butterflies that have long called massachusetts home. are making way for an influx of butterflies from the south. until recently more likely to light in florida and texas.

>> we call them accidentals. in the old days, you would see one or two fiery skippers. now you see dozens.

>> reporter: the shift of southern butterflies to the increasingly warmer north is detailed in the journal nature . greg breed is the study's lead scientist.

>> we see the species that are more adapted to warmer clients are increasing, and species that are adapting to colder climates are decreasing. it seems sensible to infer that this is some kind of climate driven pattern.

>> is it climate change ?

>> that would be the most logical infer ens.

>> the study is built on the work of citizen scientists. all members of the massachusetts butterfly club, and the 20,000 sightings they've noted over a period of 19 years. the data includes tom ganion's notes.

>> how do you keep your records? how do you know what's been here?

>> i have a running log right here that i keep.

>> reporter: other club members add their observations to the notebook under the bench. from september 2007 .

>> we had ten common checkered skippers and --

>> this is a southern species.

>> yes.

>> reporter: this year, the buzz is all about the giant swallow tails, common in the deep south .

>> have you ever seen 108 giant swallow tails in a season?

>> not in my whole life. never mind a whole season.

>> reporter: some may consider these club members too, accidentals too, accidental scientists, not breed.

>> if they go out and look and they're interested, and they write what they see, that's a perfectly valid observation.

>> reporter: seeing nature's patterns change right before their eyes. anne thompson , nbc news, northampton, massachusetts .