June 10, 2015

The Monarch butterfly’s life cycle has always been synchronized to the seasonal growth of milkweed, the only plant its larvae will eat. Successive generations of Monarchs follow the springtime emergence of milkweed from Mexico to Canada. The hardy plant once flourished in grasslands, roadsides, abandoned lots, and cornfields across much of the continent. It fueled a mass migration that ended each winter with more than 60 million butterflies converging on pine forests in the Sierra Madres.

The World Wildlife Fund announced that in 2013, migration from Canada and the United States to Mexico, had reached a record low since scientists started to monitor monarch butterfly colonies in 1993. In 2014, butterflies were found in 1.7 acres across 11 sanctuaries, down from a high of 45 acres in 1996.

The monarch population began to steadily sink as more than 1 million acres of grasslands are rapidly being wiped out in favor of corn and soybean fields; a rate of loss comparable to the deforestation of Brazil and Indonesia. Monsanto’s Roundup Week killer is largely to blame for the decline, since it kills everything, including milkweed, which is down by 80%. The butterfly population has decreased by the same amount. Some states, such as Iowa, has reported to have lost more than 98 percent of their milkweed population. The weed doesn’t even grow on the edges of farmland anymore and the disappearance of the plant poses a huge risk to the insect’s survival, which should alarm scientists and Lepidopterists alike.

There are other possible scenarios though for the butterfly’s disappearance, including two years of unusual spring weather in the United States. 2012 was “much hotter” than normal and the following year it was colder, disrupting the insects northward migration. Illegal logging has dwindled away the butterfly’s winter habitat. Even with these two factors, nothing can match the lost milkweed in the Midwest, birthplace of roughly half of all the Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains.

This isn’t new news though. Declines in the population of Monarch butterfly’s have been reported for a number of years. Honeybee populations have been sliding downhill as well. Who are we going to listen to? An evil corporation preparing to take over the world? Or the beautiful living insects on this earth that keep everything else in sync?

You can reach Jennifer on Google+ or on Facebook.


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