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The Flight of the Monarch Butterflies

By Dawna Matthews:

Picture borrowed from http://www.wanderlustimages.com
Picture borrowed from http://www.wanderlustimages.com

Every year, during the fall and winter, monarch butterflies make a miraculous and long journey from Canada and through the United States to Michoacan, Mexico. Monarchs living east of the Rocky Mountains in North America fly south each fall and gather in the Oyamel fir and pine forest of Mexico, densely covering the branches until the warmer months. In the springtime, the original butterflies who made the journey to Mexico will initiate the return trip. Once arriving in the southern region of the United States, they mate and lay eggs. Then, their descendants continue the migration north.

For years, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies would make this trip twice a year and cover close to 3,000 miles. Exactly how the butterflies can navigate to a location they have never been is unknown. Scientists believe environmental factors trigger the migratory movement. Some of these environmental conditions are shorter days, cooler temperatures, and less availability of food.

Just last month, the World Wildlife Foundation, in its annual census, reported that in 2013 Mexico’s entire hibernating population of monarch butterflies had decreased 44% from the previous year to a size covering only 1.6 acres. At their peak in 1996, the monarchs covered close to 45 acres. This is a devastating realization that one of North America’s and nature’s most dazzling wonders is in danger of vanishing completely.

monarch-butterfly-femaleThere are several environmental reasons which contribute to this dramatic decrease in population. Some of these conditions are extreme global climate fluctuation, deforestation due to logging, as well as the redirection of water. The overall global warming temperatures and radical storms are not ideal for monarchs’ eggs, as they prefer mild temperatures and climates. Once the surviving eggs develop into butterflies, they arrive in a land which has been deforested. Believed to be the biggest factors for the population decrease are the butterflies’ vanishing food source and reproductive development. This food source, milkweed, is vanishing due to pesticides and reallocation of land use in the United States. The combination of these three factors is the reason for the massive reduction in monarch butterfly population.

Still, there is hope. Early this week, the North American Leaders’ Summit takes place and the survival of the monarch butterflies is expected to be on the agenda. All three countries through which the monarch travels — Canada, the United States and Mexico — have contributed to their current situation. If we are to save this insect, our countries must work together to stop destruction of milkweed, restore the habitats of the monarch’s migratory route, and strengthen environmental laws regarding deforestation. It is only right that we all work together to save the monarch butterfly and what is truly a magical experience to behold.

To read the WWF’s report: http://worldwildlife.org/publications/forest-surface-occupied-by-monarch-butterfly-hibernation-colonies-in-december-2013

To adopt a monarch butterfly: http://gifts.worldwildlife.org/gift-center/gifts/Species-Adoptions/Monarch-Butterfly.aspx?sc=AWY1302WC900

About Dawna Matthews

Dawna is a yoga teacher, writer, domestic goddess, and lover of life. She tries to celebrate all the joys given to us in this world by dancing, singing, cooking, and gazing up at the sky. Dawna believes green living is a way of coming back to the self- a simple yet deeply satisfying dance of gratitude to mother earth and each one of us. She lives in Colorado where the mountains are a perfect backdrop to each day. She twirls daily.

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