November 30 – King of the air

Today’s factimsal: Every year, Monarch butterflies migrate from Mexico to the Great Lakes and back again; the journey takes four generations to complete!

Yes, today is a repeated factismal. And that’s because it is one of those things that is so amazing that you simply have to repeat it to believe it. Today, while Americans search for antacids and bargains, the great-grandchildren of the Monarch butterflies that left Mexico in the spring are heading back to their winter home. Once there, they will enter a state similar to suspended animation and live that way throughout the winter. Come spring, they will lay the eggs that will become the first generation to head back north.

A Monarch butterfly flock in migration  (Image courtesy Journey North)

A Monarch butterfly flock in migration (Image courtesy Journey North)

Just think about it and you’ll see how amazing the journey is. The Monarch butterflies that are in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas right now will be in Mexico’s forests before the end of December. There they will enter diapause and wait until spring before waking up. (Anyone who has ever tried to wake a teenager can sympathize.) After that, the butterfly will start north and lay eggs along the way. Those eggs will hatch into caterpillars that will turn into the butterflies that actually make it to the Northern United Sates, where the butterflies will spend the summer. Come fall, the children of those summer Monarchs will head south, laying yet more eggs on the way. Those eggs will become the butterflies that actually make it all the way back to Mexico, nearly a year and four generations later.

A Monarch after a rain shower  (Image courtesy Journey North)

A Monarch after a rain shower (Image courtesy Journey North)

But for some reason, the number of butterflies that mange the trip each year is decreasing. Is it climate change? Is it changes in land use? Is it a natural fluctuation? We simply don’t have enough information to decide. But you can help gather that information. Right now, the folks at the Xerces Society are looking for volunteers to go out and count butterflies (this is easier than it sounds like). By comparing the numbers from year to year and looking at the geographical distribution, they hope to be able to discover why one of our most beautiful butterflies is becoming one of our rarest. To help them, join in on the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Butterfly Count at:
http://www.xerces.org/butterfly-conservation/western-monarch-thanksgiving-count/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s