Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico, after suffering serious declines, experts said Friday.
The area covered by the orange-and-black insects in the mountains west of Mexico City this season was more than three and a half times greater than last winter. The butterflies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by individual insects.
Once the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America, numbering in the hundreds of millions, if not billions. It would take several hours for flocks to pass a single spot, their wing beats so loud it was hard to carry on a conversation.
But by the late 1890s, they were gone from the wild and less than 20 years later, totally extinct. Could monarch butterflies see the same fate?
Forty years ago, amid a forest swirling with millions of monarchs, an aging scientist found a thumbnail-sized sticker placed by two Minnesota schoolboys and solved a decades-old mystery.
Dr. Fred Urquhart, a Canadian zoologist, had searched for the wintering grounds of the monarch since 1937. At the time, no one knew where the monarchs came from each spring. In pursuit of an answer, Urquhart and his wife, Norah, created thousands of monarch tags — tiny stickers that adhered to wings — and distributed them to butterfly enthusiasts throughout North America.
Two environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over its failure to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety petitioned for the monarch’s protection in August 2014, following a more than 80 percent decline in the butterfly’s population over the past two decades. In December 2014 the agency issued an initial positive decision on the petition and launched an official review of the butterfly’s status.
They fly through the Louisville area each year on their way from Canada to Mexico — an iconic flutter of orange and black that has taught generations of Americans about the biology of life cycles and metamorphosis, but now may be at risk of vanishing.
Monarch butterfly populations have plummeted so much that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now believes there might be reason to protect them under the Endangered Species Act.
The Desert Southwest harbors at least 41 of the 76 milkweed (Asclepias spp.) species known to exist in the lower 48 states. The species richness of milkweeds in this region is influenced by the tremendous diversity and range of vegetation types, soils, topography, climate, and the exposure of unusual rock types that occur over more than a 9,000 foot elevation range.
The nectar of milkweed flowers is attractive to dozens of insects including bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. The bees that milkweed flowers attract to agricultural landscapes are important for pollinating a wide variety of vegetable forage and fruit crops.
The largest habitat recovery initiative in American history is needed to plant new and enhance existing populations of milkweeds and other native wildflowers for the recovery of monarch butterflies. This report offers insights—particularly for departments of transportation and other landscape managers—on how best to build collaborations to manage the milkweed seed supply chain to recover monarchs as well as crop pollinators in North America over the next decade.