The number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico dropped by 27 percent this year, reversing last year’s recovery from historically low numbers, according to a study by government and independent experts released Thursday.
The experts say the decline could be due to late winter storms last year that blew down more than 100 acres (40 hectares) of forests where migrating monarch butterflies spend the winter in central Mexico.
A couple of weeks ago, it was raining monarch butterflies. I was visiting a hilltop sanctuary near Mexico City where monarchs from Canada and the U.S. Midwest spend their winters.
The tiny critters cling to branches in clusters so dense they bend the bows of massive fir trees.
The branches sagged from the weight of butterflies. Thousands upon thousands of them — orange, black, and white — carpeted the trees around us, and the sound of their fluttering wings echoed through the still forest.
My three kids were mesmerized. Over Christmas holidays, in early January, we hiked the mountains of central Mexico with Omar Vidal, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico, to see the famous monarch butterflies.
As most everyone interested in sustainability knows by now, the concept has been appropriated by numerous entities and used in various ways, often to achieve different objectives.
In his introductory chapter to the excellent 2013 edition of the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World report, Robert Engelman coined the term “sustainababble” to reflect this “cacophonous profusion of uses of the word sustainable to mean anything from environmentally better to cool.”
A survey of monarch butterflies overwintering in California shows that the population has not rebounded. Although the total number of monarchs counted this year was greater than last, the difference is due to a large increase in volunteer effort. Counts at major sites were down when compared to recent years.
Volunteers with the Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count visited 253 sites and tallied a total of 298,464 monarchs—a fraction of the 1.2 million monarchs recorded in the late 1990s.
We know monarch numbers have declined drastically in recent years. Estimates are down by 80 to 90% from a population size of about one billion in the early 1990s.
It’s long been thought that the big reason behind this is the loss of milkweed throughout the farming regions of the U.S. Midwest.
Milkweed isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering insulation materials. But the Canadian Coast Guard has other ideas and is testing the pods as a potential environmentally friendly insulation.
The Coast Guard works in partnership with Encore3, a manufacturing company in Québec, to prototype parkas, gloves and mittens made with milkweed insulation.
Gary Nabhan and I are bumping along in a rental car down a two-track dirt road that follows the edge of Sonoita Creek’s floodplain, some 29 kilometers north of the Arizona–Mexico border.
Nabhan—an ethnobiologist, conservation biologist and agroecologist at the University of Arizona and author of more than 30 books on food, farming and nature—tells me how extraordinary this borderlands region is for pollinators: native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, even nectar-feeding bats. And now he is giving me a tour to illustrate his point.