The Rapidian

Living green: Help save the monarchs

Where are all the monarch butterflies going? What can we do to stop them from disappearing?

By Caroline*

How many butterflies- monarchs, for example- did you see this summer? Chances are you saw far fewer butterflies than in previous summers. Butterflies have been on the decline for several years now, but I began looking into why the monarch decline has been sudden and drastic this year.

The Monarch Watch website reports that the area where monarchs overwinter has declined 59% from the area occupied last winter. The number of monarch colonies was the smallest since 1975, when the colonies were first monitored.

Several factors have contributed to this decline: first milkweeds are the only plants on which monarchs will lay their eggs. Milkweed in the corn and soybean fields has been largely eliminated due to the use of GMO seed containing herbicides.

Planting corn and soybeans for use as biofuels has increased 25.5 million acres since 2006. Add to this the practice of excessive mowing and herbicide use in managing roadside areas, and it’s not hard to figure out that less milkweed means fewer monarchs.

Second, Oyamel fir forests in Mexico are the only places where monarchs overwinter. Deforestation of these forests has destroyed monarch habitat; it’s not hard to figure out that habitat destruction means fewer monarchs.

Third: extreme weather directly impacts monarch migration. March 2012 was the warmest recorded since nationwide record keeping began in 1895. Warm weather encourages returning monarchs to fan out across the country rapidly, but cooler April temperatures in the north causes developmental delay reducing both life span and number of eggs each female lays.

That’s the bad news; here’s the good news: Living Green in Creston is currently in the process of making the butterfly garden at Briggs Park into a Monarch Waystation. Monarch waystations provide milkweed, nectar plants and shelter for monarchs throughout their annual cycle and helps to assure their continued migration in North America.

For information on making a Monarch waystation of your own and other ways you can help visit the Monarch Watch website.

 

*The reporter's last name has been withheld to protect her identity.

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