Take an extra long look as the magnificent, ubiquitous monarch butterflies glide effortlessly through the warm breezes this summer.
You may not see them much longer. The Minnesota state butterfly could very well become extinct this year, or in the next few years. Shocking.
Monarchs from all across North America migrate to and winter in just one forested area of Mexico.
In previous years the monarchs squeezed into an area that covered 50 acres of forest. This past winter, the monarchs occupied only 2.94 acres. Their numbers have dropped by more than half since 2011. It was reported that in the previous year the monarch population occupied more than seven acres of Mexican forest.
The population can’t decline by another four acres this year, the math doesn’t work, they would become extinct. There comes a tipping point where a species can’t survive, and the monarchs are close to there, if not there.
A big reason the monarchs are in trouble is that their one source of food is milkweed. Modern agricultural practices have eradicated that plant over millions of acres of farmland.
The Midwest is a critical feeding ground for the monarchs. There used to be milkweed growing between rows of corn and soybeans. Herbicide tolerant crops have allowed farmers to wipe out milkweed, and with that much of the butterflies’ food supply. The cultivated area lost to monarchs as a food source is 100 million acres or more.
Climate change is also a clear and present danger to the survival of the monarchs.
The heat and the drought killed off milkweed and messed up the butterflies breeding cycle.
If the trends in climate change continue, then that too could lead to the butterflies extinction.
Loss of habitat is another threat. On Labor Day 2011, we had a fierce, cold north wind blow across the county. I’ve got a big grove, and that afternoon, thousands of monarchs sheltered themselves from the cold winds at the south end of the grove.
It was a beautiful sight. They took off to resume their trip to Mexico the next morning.
Farmers and developers continue to bulldoze under groves to make the land more productive. That’s less shelter for these fragile creatures.
The possible loss of the monarch is a depressing thought to me. The web of life is fragile for all creatures. Man has played a big role, perhaps the major role, in the possible extinction of the monarch. Can we change our ways in time to save them? Other creatures? Us?
Page 2 of 2 - For now, one small thing you can do is to not pull milkweed if you have it in your yard. The monarchs need every plant they can find.