January 6 – Good News, Bad News, Butterfly News

Today’s factismal: The US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering putting the Monarch butterfly on the endangered species list.

The Monarch butterfly is one of Nature’s marvels. It flies from where it was born to a place it has never seen in order to lay its eggs. It feasts on a plant that is poisonous to other insects and uses that poison as a natural defense. It can act as an early warning system of environmental changes. And, of course, it is just plain pretty. But there’s been something wrong with the Monarch butterfly of late. Over the past few decades, the number of butterflies has dropped significantly.  In 1996, more than a billion Monarch butterflies spent the winter in Mexico before starting on a journey that would take four generations to complete. By 2007, just a quarter that many lived in Mexico. And last year, there were but 3% of that all time high. The good news is that this year there seem to be many more Monarchs overwintering in Mexico. The bad news is that we don’t know why the population has declined and if it is permanent. Is it climate change? Is it changes in land use? Is it due to parasites? Is it a natural fluctuation? We simply don’t have enough information to decide.

Monarch population over the years [Data from Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONAP)]

Monarch population over the years
[Data from Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONAP)]

 But given the strong decline in the number of Monarchs, some scientific organizations are urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the Monarch butterfly to be an endangered species. If that happens, then areas that harbor Monarch butterflies during their flight will be protected and funding will be available for groups that work to preserve the butterfly population. However, that will also make it harder for farmers and other folks to use the land that butterflies pass through. As with most ecological problems, there is no easy answer. But there is a way for you to make your feelings about the matter known! The US Fish and Wildlife Service currently has a petition to list the Monarch butterfly as a protected species open for public comments. To let them know what you think, head to:

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

Will the Monarch soon be no more? (Image courtesy Journey North)

And if you don’t want to wait for the government to solve the problem, why not plant some milkweed for the Monarchs in your neighborhood to feast on? Despite the name, milkweeds are beautiful and colorful plants that can brighten up any garden. To order seeds, head to your nearest nursery or flit your browser to:

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