Things That Matter

Climate Change Is Killing Mexico’s Famous Monarch Butterflies And Here’s Why That’s Such A Big Deal

Every year, hundreds of millions of Monarch butterflies travel up to 3 thousand miles in their annual migration from Canada and the United States, to their wintering home in Mexico. Once there, the monarchs set camp in the Oyamel Fir trees of Michoacan, Mexico. After years of increasingly declining populations, monarch butterflies could be making a comeback across North America.

The ‘Monarca’ butterfly has started to descend upon the Mexican forests of Michoacan.

The beautiful butterflies have started their annual fall migration, and early reports from observers suggest that more of them are making the trek than in years past. The increase is attributed to good weather conditions during the migration period, as well as larger numbers of milkweed, an important food source, along their path.

The brightly-colored butterfly starts its long migration in October and heads back North toward the end of Winter in January.

Come October when temperatures start to drop in Canada and the United Sates, millions of  beautiful black and orange monarch butterflies start their mesmerizing migration, which sees them flapping south, nearly 3 thousand miles to the center of Mexico. These butterflies cluster into Pine and Oyamel trees in the forests of Michoacan.

The massive migration of monarch butterflies still remains a mystery to researchers.

A lot is still unknown about how the butterflies are able to find their way to Mexico every fall — or how they make the return trip north to Canada and the northeastern United States come spring. One thing we do know is that when the weather starts warming up in the U.S., they’ll head back north from Mexico, stopping in southern states like Texas and Louisiana to mate and lay eggs, which quickly become caterpillars that transform into butterflies that continue flying north bit by bit, mating (and dying) along the way.

Another thing that’s become clear in recent years is that monarch butterfly populations are dwindling.

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In fact, over the last two decades, more than a billion —yes, billion— butterflies have disappeared. One reason is the decline of milkweed, mostly a result of herbicides. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies can lay their eggs — and the only food caterpillars feed on before turning into butterflies.

Although, monarch butterflies have not yet been declared a threatened species, the prospects of future migrations are unsure.

Recent figures indicate that the number of monarch butterflies arriving to Mexico has been far lower than usual. The monarch butterfly biosphere reserve is located in the central Mexican Mountains. The creation of this biosphere reserve was to protect the forests and butterflies that overwinter there.

Surprisingly, this year started out well for the eastern monarchs.

The NRDC cites a count of monarchs in Mexico last winter that showed more than double the previous year’s number. It was the highest number in 10 years! Now that the southward migration is on, monarch lovers are hopeful that the population will remain strong. Civilian butterfly boosters are spotting the colorful road warriors on their journey.

One key way that the butterfly fans encourage the monarchs on their annual odyssey is by planting milkweed.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, the loss of milkweed plants in both urban and rural areas is a big reason why monarch populations have dipped, and the success of milkweed restoration projects may be contributing to their return. Fortunately, word is spreading about the need to bring back milkweed.

Tourists can visit 3 reserve areas that are open to the public: El Rosario in Ocampo the most popular, one. It receives visitors from November to March. And it also offers guided tours. Sierra Chincua in Angangueo is easy to visit, and finally, the most perfect among the three is Cerro Pelon. These reserves are visited by many Mexican and international tourists from Canada, United States, Germany, Japan, France and Spain.

The town of Angangueo, located in far eastern Michoacan celebrates the ‘Monarch Butterfly Festival.’

In the year 1922, Angangueo decided to start a festival to promote awareness of the habitat of butterflies and the arts and culture of the area, all proceeds from the festival go back to protecting the butterfly biosphere reserve as well as local indigenous groups.

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