When was the last time you saw a monarch butterfly?
Think about it…
You may be thinking for awhile.
Growing up I used to watch in awe as these beautiful black and orange Monarch butterflies fluttered around my dad’s garden; and watched in amazement as they fed on my mom’s hummingbird feeder. I also remember growing them in elementary school, enjoying them develop from caterpillar to butterfly. I miss those days. Now that I’m grown I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these elegant creatures.
The truth is, butterflies like the Monarch butterfly have seemingly become more and more rare across North America. Monarch butterfly numbers are down almost 60 percent this year, marking the third straight year of a decline in numbers. Why are these beautiful butterflies disappearing?
The Decline In Monarch Butterfly Populations
Every winter, Monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada, down to the fir tree forest mountains of Central Mexico. It’s during this migration when scientists perform an annual census to get an accurate count of the butterfly’s numbers.
This last winter, the Monarch butterfly populations were down almost 60 percent by most accounts. Shockingly, the butterflies covered just 2.93 acres of forest; down from 7.14 acres last year.
Since the inception of the butterfly census some 20 years ago, this is the lowest number of Monarch butterflies ever accounted for. This last migration also marked the third straight year of a decline in the number of butterflies; and a decline in six of the last seven years.
Scientists estimate that there are now only 1/15 the amount of butterflies in North America, and this has them worried. Some cities in Mexico that where used to seeing hundreds-of-thousands of Monarch butterflies each winter, are now seeing zero. This is alarming! The decline in Monarch butterflies is now a statistical long term trend.
Theories Behind The Monarch’s Decline
The World Wildlife Fund, who sponsors the annual butterfly census in Mexico, has offered a few theories behind this 15 percent decline in butterfly populations.
Decline of Milkweed. Experts agree that the decline of milkweed, in which the Monarch feeds, is one of the biggest contributing factors to the decline of Monarch butterflies. The loss of milkweed in the Monarchs’ summering areas in the United States and Canada also make it difficult for the butterflies to lay eggs. The few offspring that do hatch do not have enough food to grow to maturity.
Illegal Logging. The Monarch butterfly has a private reserve established for their wintering grounds in Mexico, but that hasn’t stopped some companies from illegally taking the Monarch’s much need fir trees. Illegal logging has devastated as many as 1,140 acres a year in the reserve.
Herbicides. Herbiciding of corn and soybean fields kills the butterflies’ much needed milkweed, in which they feed.
Unusual Hot & Dry Weather. Unusual hot or dry weather can kill the Monarch’s eggs, which in turn, means fewer adult butterflies.
Drought In Mexico. Monarchs don’t drink any water throughout their long migration until the reach Mexico, and the mountain streams in the area have been affected by drought and human use.
Agricultural Practices. The diversion of water and the use of pesticides to control milkweed have had negative effects on the Monarch’s survival. Without abundant water and milkweed, the butterflies die off because of hunger and dehydration.
Saving The Monarch Butterfly
The United States, Canada, and Mexico need to face the fact that it is their collective behavior that is killing the migratory phenomenon of the Monarch butterfly. No one country is to blame. These three countries need to work together to solve this problem.
Agricultural practices may need to be changed to give the Monarch’s a better supply of food and water. Herbicide usage needs to be addressed. Illegal logging activities need to be cracked down upon; with a more sever penalty for breaking the law.
Contact the World Wildlife Fund to see what they are doing to help save this beautiful butterfly, and to get more information on what you can do to help.
The Monarch Butterfly
The Monarch butterfly is possibly the most recognizable butterfly in the United States, so much so, that it’s the state insect of Alabama, Texas, West Virginia, Vermont, Idaho, Minnesota, and Illinois. They are also one of the most beloved insects in the entire world. Monarch butterfly enthusiasts often times plant gardens of milkweed to attract feeding butterflies.
Adult monarchs have been seen on a large variety of different nectar plants, but prefer that of the milkweed. They are often seen in meadows, fields, parks, gardens, trees, and roadsides.
The Monarch butterfly might be best known for its migration, which is an inherited trait. Every winter, Monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada, down to the fir tree forest mountains of Central Mexico. No butterfly lives to make the round-trip. The millions of Monarchs cluster so densely on tree boughs in the reserves of Mexico; researchers don’t count their individual numbers, but rather measure the amount of forest they cover. It’s quite an impressive site.