edThe Monarch butterfly
, a favorite insect of natural history studies, of children's grade school classes, and the poster-child for long-distance migrations is in serious trouble. Where once nearly a billion of the orange "Painted Ladies" made the annual migration the insect's population is plummeting. Migrating from Canada to Mexico with stops in the USA in both directions is being interrupted. The problem is simple: habitat loss.
Butterflies from east of the Rocky Mountains and mid-western USA migrate in October to sanctuaries in Mexico's Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve
within a belt of oak and pine forests occurring at high elevations in the states of Michoacan and Mexico. The Monarchs cover the trees as they over-winter. Deforestation from illegal logging, land colonization for agriculture, and lack off environmental law enforcement has significantly reduced the area of their once thick forest habitat.
Overwintering Butterflies Mariposa Monarch Biosphere Reserve
The situation in the United States is equally critical. The butterflies can't make the entire round-trip migration from Canada to Mexico and back again in one generation. They make stops in the Great Plains and elsewhere along the way to reproduce. Their primary food source is the milkweed
, a prairie plant often considered a weed. Changes in mid-western agriculture including increased production of corn for bio-fuel; use of genetically engineered seeds allowing widespread use of herbicides that kill milkweeds; as well as erratic and changing weather patterns have all contributed to lowering the butterfly's reproduction.
Monarch on Milkweed (credit: Wiki-commons)
Organizations like Monarch Watch
, Project Milkweed
, and the Monarch Joint Venture Partnership,
are working to assure a future for the butterflies via conservation, education, and habitat restoration. A group of internationally recognize writers and public intellectuals have called for the U.S., Mexico and Canada to protect monarch butterflies
The Mexican writer Homero Aridjis commented: "It is ecological genocide. By killing the plant, you are killing the butterfly. If they don’t stop the destruction of the milkweed the migratory phenomenon could collapse."
Let's hope people of the future don't read about the end of the Monarch's migration like we do today about the extinction of the Dodo or the Passenger Pigeon. This is one migration we can help to continue.