Butterflies Were Tenderly Saved Before Hurricane Irma Hit

Employees at the Florida Museum of Natural History caught butterflies in nets and rescued them before Hurricane Irma slammed into Gainesville.

While millions of Florida residents evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irma this weekend, many others stayed behind to make sure that the some of the state's more delicate animals stayed safe.

Employees at the Florida Museum of Natural History, in Gainesville, carefully captured up butterflies in the museum's Butterfly Rainforest, a screened in outdoor enclosure that is usually open to the public.

Though the habitat is designed to handle strong winds, "we took precautions for the butterflies by bringing them indoors," said Geena Hill, a research assistant at the museum. "We also wanted to ensure that none of the butterflies escaped since many of them are non-native species."

There are about 1000-1200 adult butterflies in the Butterfly Rainforest on any given week, Hill told BuzzFeed News, and about 80% had to be rescued Friday afternoon as Hurricane Irma made its way toward Florida.

The butterflies, which are also used for research, are currently being kept in flight cages and are being cared for by Butterfly Rainforest staff. They will ride out the worst of the hurricane safely in the museum's "rearing lab," and will be released back into the enclosure after Hurricane Irma passes, Hill said.

The museum is also protecting two "critically endangered butterfly species" in captivity in the lab, the Miami Blue and the Schaus' Swallowtail, both of which are are only found in the Florida Keys.

"We are not sure of the current status of the wild populations and their habitat. The current populations occur on remote islands in the Keys," Hill said. "Hurricane Irma may have done a significant amount of damage to them."

Butterflies can be excellent predictors for assessing climate change impacts and environmental changes, added Hill, who is currently studying the Miami Blue Butterfly. Hill, who lives in Gainesville with her partner and two dogs, said she prepared for the storm herself by piling sand bags by her front and back doors.

"The inside of our house is currently a jungle since we brought all of our potted plants indoors," she said.

The museum is scheduled to reopen on Sept. 13.

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