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monarch butterfly population plungesmonarch butterfly population plunges

Plant Milkweed: Monarch Butterfly Populations on the Brink

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If you’ve never seen the Alec Baldwin-narrated “Great Migrations” from the National Geographic Channel, I encourage you to check it out. Like other nature docs, it’s a visually stunning piece of work – and relative to this article, its feature on the Monarch Butterfly migration is something of a wonder (see below).

Unfortunately, Monarch populations are on the decline – with a report released Wednesday by the Mexican government and conservation officials reporting the number of butterflies overwintering in protected forests as low as 2.94 acres – numbers not seen for more than two decades. At one point, monarchs covered more than 50 acres.

The decrease follows a steady trend that Omar Vidal, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Mexico operations tells the NY Times “more or less started in the last seven to eight years.”

To be sure, North America’s record-breaking 2012 heat did the migrating masses of Monarchs no favors – causing them to arrive early in regions, move further north than normal, and experience disrupted breeding cycles, lower eggs counts, and less nectar from the milkweed they feed on.

This last part is particularly vital because, regardless of weather, it’s U.S. farmers who are the biggest threat to the Monarch’s food source. From the article:

The American Midwest’s corn belt is a critical feeding ground for monarchs, which once found a ready source of milkweed growing between the rows of millions of acres of soybean and corn. But the ubiquitous use of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to wipe out the milkweed, and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.

“That habitat is virtually gone. We’ve lost well over 120 million acres, and probably closer to 150 million acres,” said Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

Taylor says that the U.S. needs to do more to protect areas rich in milkweed and restore grasslands and other conservation areas under threat from increased farming.

Craig Wilson, a senior research associate at Texas A&M University, tells USA Today that anyone can help simply by planting more milkweed.

“It is important to have a national priority of planting milkweed to assure there will be monarchs in the future,” Wilson believes. “If we could get several states to collaborate, we might be able to provide a ‘feeding’ corridor right up to Canada for the monarchs.”

Need some seeds? MonarchWatch.org has a great list of suppliers here. Check out the “Great Migrations” focus on Monarchs below.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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  • There are other reasons to plant milkweed. Many beneficial insects swarm to it, and the flowers have the most heavenly smell on earth!

  • Bob Dennis

    Who is reporting on the effect of the thousands of square miles of genetically modified corn (GMO)now in the Monarch’s migration path? The rise of the altered corn and the decline of the Monarch population are a compelling comparison.

  • 2ndGreenRevolution Blog

    What a great cause. I’ve heard of some organizations setting up programs as far south as Mexico to support their migration.

  • PaulCherubini

    Monarch butterflies and other pollinators are actually abundant and doing well in the herbicide tolerant GMO corn and soybean belt of the upper Midwest USA. Here’s a 16 minute video I shot last August showing the abundant bees and butterflies (including monarch butterflies) that could be found along the margins of these GMO corn and soybean fields: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZCOJnJU1UE

  • Karen

    I am wondering if people realize at that rate this is the last year of the monarch butterfly.

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