The once-common monarch butterfly is MIA, and it doesn’t bode well for the health of our species.
Unable to survive the cold temperatures that blanket the U.S. during winter months, the monarch butterfly population heads to Mexico and Southern California every year to bask in the warmth. Following instructions built into their DNA, subsequent generations of monarch butterfly seek out the very same trees and bushes in which their parents were born, even though they’ve never been there before. And the happy cycle begins all over again. That is, until this year.
“This year, for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead,” reported Jim Robbins for the New York Times. “They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.”
A world without the monarch butterfly. Think about that. Our children could grow up without ever knowing what it’s like to feel this orange-and-black fairy land on their arm, or seeing one hatch from their cocoon (my favorite science project as a child).
So what’s causing the monarch butterfly to break from thousands of years of tradition? Some say pesticides, specifically the neonicotinoids often blamed for the decline of the honey bee. But even if all pesticides had never been used on a single U.S. crop, experts say the monarch butterfly would still be in peril.
“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, told the New York Times. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
Every time we tear raze a meadow, cluster of trees, or wetland to put up a parking lot, we’re destroying a monarch butterfly’s home. Every time we uproot native plants like the milkweed to install a sterile lawn and genetically-engineered flowers, we take food out of a monarch butterfly’s mouth. Which eventually means less food for our own families.
Like the bee, the monarch butterfly is a pollinator. Many forms of life are sustained by the seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, and foliage that result from pollination–including humans. This is what the produce section of your grocery store would look like if pollinators like the butterfly go the way of the Dodo. Scary.
So what can we do to save the monarch butterfly? Well for one thing, eat organic when you can, and never use chemical pesticides on your property. Encourage the growth of native plants, especially the milkweed, as well as nectar-producing flowers that attract butterflies. Purchase only FSC-Certified wood products, since illegal logging in Mexico is devastating monarch butterfly habitats there. Lastly, support programs working to protect the monarch butterfly. Visit MonarchWatch.org to learn more.
Related on Ecosalon:
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