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Monarch Butterflies Under Siege

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Monarch Butterflies Under Siege

This year may be one of the worst for the monarch butterfly, experts are reporting. Severe hailstorms in Mexico (one of the monarch’s winter home) followed by fifteen inches of rain has left the population decimated by up to 50 percent this year. Add to that the ongoing issue of habitat destruction, and the future of the monarch begins to look a little shaky.

The monarch population is typically measured by the number of acres of pine trees the butterflies fill in their Mexican wintering habitat. This year, scientists found the smallest area of monarchs overwintering in the 16 years they have been looking–down to 4.7 acres from an average of 18.3 acres.

At the fairy-like weight of a mere .026 oz, these stalwart troopers make the journey from as far as Canada all the way to Mexico–it’s like The Odyssey of the insect world. According to MonarchWatch.org, monarch butterflies cannot survive a long cold winter, unlike most other insects in temperate climates. Instead, they spend the winter in roosting spots–monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains travel to small groves of trees along the California coast, while those east of the Rocky Mountains fly farther south to the forests high in the mountains of Mexico.

No other butterflies migrate like North American monarchs. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, round trip migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Part of the problem monarchs are facing is the longevity of the trees within which they roost: Illegal logging in Mexico has destroyed the butterflies’ mountain habitats, while property development in California threatens the eucalyptus trees where they roost there.

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Conservation, Lawns & Gardens, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, News & Issues

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

113 comments

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4:03PM PST on Jan 27, 2012

Thanks.

5:42PM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

Milkweed is a noxious weed isn't it? Meaning that it is to be eradicated wherever it is seen.
A shame the legislation stating that didn't think about monarch butterflies.

1:17AM PST on Dec 16, 2010

The life cycle of Monarch Butterflies includes a change of form called complete metamorphosis. The monarch goes through four radically different stages. The four stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle are the egg, the larvae, the pupa, and the adult butterfly. The eggs are laid by the females during spring and summer breeding months.The eggs hatch or after the four days, revealing worm like larvae, the caterpillars. In the pupa or chrysalis stage, the caterpillar spins a silk pad on a twig, leaf, etc and hangs from this pad by its last pair of prolegs.

3:33PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

I have raised Monarchs in the past-- and one fall a scientist "tagged" 13 of them before they migrated. Their demise is a great loss to the world-- they are part of the inticate life web. Good article.

10:56PM PDT on Jun 27, 2010

Thanks.

11:09AM PDT on Jun 13, 2010

I sure hope we can do something to help these sweet, beautiful creatures. I love butterflies and where we live we get irrigation and we have seen quite a few monarchs! I get wide-eyed excited with each one I see. SAVE THE BUTTERFLIES!!!

10:35PM PDT on Jun 11, 2010

aww thats a shame

12:49PM PDT on Jun 8, 2010

Destroying the forests & wildlife habitats make room for the drug industry. Much for lucrative. Fools!

6:56AM PDT on Jun 8, 2010

Next time spell "siege" correctly kindly

7:49PM PDT on May 29, 2010

How much of the earth's beauty will have to be destroyed before people start to care? It is truly a shame.

Would anybody happen to know who to contact about the illegal logging? Maybe a petition could be started for boycotting travel or something else that would motivate a responsible parties to put an end to it.

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