Monarch butterflies are disappearing at an alarming rate. The number of Monarch’s have been falling for years, but this year has been the lowest level since experts started to keep record in 1993.
“This is the third straight year of steep declines, which I think is really scary,” Karen S. Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota said. “This phenomenon — both the phenomenon of their migration and the phenomenon of so many individuals doing it — that’s at risk.”
Destruction of the environment may be to blame for the falling Monarch numbers, specifically during their migration to winter in Mexico.
A report released by the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico’s Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission blames the displacement of the milkweed in which the Monarch’s feed on by genetically modified crops and urban sprawl in the United States. Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed, and patches of the plant have rapidly disappeared from the Great Plains over the last decade.
It’s estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent.
As well as the dramatic reduction of the butterflies’ habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging of the trees they depend on for shelter.
The announcement followed the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, when the United States, Mexico and Canada signed environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch.
“Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ cooperation, is at serious risk of disappearing,” said Omar Vidal, Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.
Extreme weather, such as severe cold snaps, heavy rains or droughts in all three countries, have also played a role in the decline of Monarchs.
It’s unclear what will happen to the Monarchs if they no longer make the annual migration to Mexico, the world’s biggest migration of Monarch butterflies and the second-largest insect migration, after a species of dragonfly in Africa.
Karen Oberhauser, a professor at the University of Minnesota, said some Monarchs now appear to be wintering along the U.S. Gulf coast. She also noted there has been a movement in the United States among gardeners and home owners to plant milkweed to replace some of the lost habitat. But activists say large stands of milkweed are needed along the migratory route, comparable to what once grew there. They also want local authorities in the U.S. and Canada to alter mowing schedules in parks and public spaces, to avoid cutting down milkweed during Monarch breeding seasons.
Monarch Butterfly Numbers Drop
The number of Monarch butterflies in Mexico has plummeted to its lowest level this year since 1993. Experts believe the insects’ annual migration from the United States and Canada could decrease.