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The Language of Butterflies: A Message of Hope

Evening Program

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, September 2, 2020 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1A0110
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Karmer Blue butterfly (Albany Pine Bush Preserve)


  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
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Both fragile and enduring, butterflies have induced a mania for hoarding and collecting in some, and fantastical travels in others. We plant gardens to attract them, build habitats to guide their migrations, and study their intricate systems to help us design next-generation medical devices. But their most critical role yet may be as messengers for climate change and what we must do to uplift our planet’s future.

Science journalist Wendy Williams takes a look at the scientists, gardeners, naturalists and citizen scientists who have joined together to successfully decipher the secrets of butterflies in order to protect them. She shares surprising details like the unexpectedly intricate shapes of butterflies’ unique wing scales, the microscopic details of the butterfly proboscis, and even the biological tools that allow monarch butterflies to migrate south each fall.

Williams explores the factors behind declining butterfly populations, from habitat destruction to climate change, and charts the deepening bond we have with these insects and their importance to our own survival in her new book, The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect (Simon & Schuster), which is available for sale.

Book Sale Information

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Inside Science

This event is presented as part of the Smithsonian Earth Optimism Initiative.

Earth Optimism at Smithsonian

Note: The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the Smithsonian Institution.