The number of monarch butterflies observed in Mexico this winter decreased by 22% compared to last season.
According to the annual report conducted by the World Wildlife Fund on this renowned insect, this sharp drop is all the more worrying in light of the steady population decline recorded over the last 25 years.
Eastern monarch butterflies migrate each year from the United States and Canada to hibernate in the fir forests of central Mexico.
Some travel as far as 2,800 miles to get to their winter hideaways. A few even get some help along the way, as The Dallas Express previously reported. A dozen late-season monarch butterflies were shipped via FedEx from Wisconsin to Texas last November.
Despite efforts such as these to conserve the species, it is endangered and was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species last year.
Experts point to several factors contributing to the declining numbers of monarch butterflies in Mexico this winter.
As Humberto Peña, the director of Mexico’s nature reserves, explained, the recent rigid winter temperatures across the U.S. might have played a role, per NBC 5.
Weather shifts affect the monarch butterfly’s life cycle and its only food source as a caterpillar — the milkweed, per the WWF.
Yet another contributing factor is the use of herbicides in the U.S. that have killed off milkweeds.
Illegal logging and the overall degradation of trees in the Mexican reserve where the monarch goes to bunker down in the winter have also negatively impacted the species.
While illegal logging has been curbed in the past year through efforts of inhabitants and the Mexican authorities to protect the forests, tree loss due to recent fires, storms, and pests has been a big issue.
Gloria Tavera, conservation director of Mexico’s Commission for National Protected Areas, explained that the scarcity of rainfall in the region has also caused the trees to experience hydric stress, making them more vulnerable, per NBC 5.
As a result, Tavera said that the area of forest cover appropriate for the butterflies saw a total of about 145 acres degraded in the past year, compared to roughly 47 acres the year before.
On both sides of the border, there are various initiatives to protect the monarch butterfly, both on the international and community levels.
The U.S., Mexican, and Canadian government agencies run various projects aiming to protect monarch habitats through the Monarch Joint Venture and the North American Monarch Conservation Plan.
On a smaller scale in Mexico, the communal farm community of Crescencio Morales replants trees and has a band of residents trained as forest rangers to protect the area from illegal logging. They hope to make the mountaintop an environmentally-friendly spot for tourism.
Alongside shipping chrysalises via FedEx, Friends of Butterfly Gardens Inc. in Wisconsin has been trying to bolster the monarch butterfly population by providing monarch-raising kits to schools.
Big or small, the importance of taking steps to protect the monarch butterfly cannot be understated, according to the WWF-Mexico’s general director, Jorge Rickards.
“It is not just about conserving a species … Monarchs contribute to healthy and diverse terrestrial ecosystems across North America as they carry pollen from one plant to another,” Rickards explained, per the WWF. “With 80% of agricultural food production depending on pollinators like monarchs, when people help the species, we are also helping ourselves.”
Prompted by a previous Dallas Express article, I recently purchased Milkweed seeds from Texas based “David’s Garden Seeds”.
The package recommends Fall planting; but for Spring planting, seeds should be stratified prior to planting.
Milkweed and Butterfly related article at The Dallas Express
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