Monarch Butterfly feeding on milkweed.

The Threat of Extinction

November 21st, 2020

The epic 3,000-mile monarch butterfly migration may become a thing of the past.

Each fall, monarchs travel from their summer homes in the northern U.S. and Canada to winter habitats in California and Mexico. This migration is considered one of the most admirable phenomena in the animal kingdom. But, the latest survey in 2020 indicates a population decrease of 53 percent since the previous season, for a total decline of more than 80 percent over the past 20 years.

The twin forces of human-caused climate change and habitat loss are now threatening North American monarch butterflies with extinction. Preserving their journey requires action in light of threats such as climate change, land conversion, and forest degradation.

Climate Change:


Climate change threatens to disrupt the monarch butterfly's annual migration pattern by affecting weather conditions in both wintering grounds and summer breeding grounds. Increasing carbon dioxide levels may be making milkweed (the only food monarch caterpillars will eat) too toxic for the monarchs to tolerate. And higher temperatures may also be driving summer breeding areas further north. That means the Monarchs' migration routes will get longer and therefore more difficult.

Land Conversion:


The creation of herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans means that farmers will eradicate weeds, including milkweed. These new crop varieties could cause the demise of the milkweed plant, a vital food source for the Monarch Butterfly. Plants like milkweed in the United States and Canada are essential for monarch reproduction; it's the only plant where monarchs lay their eggs and where baby larvae feed from.

In addition to the loss of milkweed across farms, drought and development on the land where milkweed once grew abundantly, has reduced the plant numbers significantly.

Forest Degredation:


Generations of the Monarch butterflies travel thousands of miles until they reach Mexico, where they overwinter until it's time to begin their migration back home in March. The butterflies spend their time in concentrated areas of forest where they form colonies by clinging to the branches of trees, forming beautiful cascading clusters. These mountain forests in Mexico are their winter habitat, however nearby human communities also rely on them and create pressure on forests through agriculture and tourism activities.

"We have the capability to save the monarch and other species.

The question is whether we have the will to do it."

-Chip Taylor (MonarchWatch)

What You Can Do To Help:


As population numbers continue to drop, extinction of the Monarch Butterfly is becoming even more likely. Just like every other organism, plant, insect or animal on the planet, monarchs play a crucial role in the survival of our ecosystems. Butterflies help pollinate plants, making them a vital contributor to crop growth and food production. They also serve as a food source to birds and other animals.

We can all help by creating new monarch habitats by planting native milkweed species. This will help provide crucial fuel and rest stops for the traveling butterflies, as will taking more action to address climate change. Ditch the pesticides in your yard, and choose to purchase organic and non-GMO products as often as possible. And by being a conscious consumer, you can help prevent deforestation by avoiding the purchase of wood and paper products unless they're certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.


References:


National Geographic
World Wildlife Federation
One Green Planet
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