Every year, during the summer, we’re bound to see at least one of these beautiful yet mysterious little critters scampering about. Yet, as we’ve come to know, their population is at an all-time low. What can be done for saving the monarch butterflies?
Monarch butterflies are very easy to spot, as they have a distinct type of orange, black, and white coloring which has become their trademark. Yet, they have forever been an ever more fascinating mystery for scientists.
During a single year, there are four generations of monarchs. The first three have a life-span of between two and five weeks, during which time they mature and reproduce. Yet, it is during the fourth generation which is the most interesting.
These butterflies emerge from their cocoons in late summer, or early autumn, in an immature state. Because of this, they are incapable of reproducing. Then begins the most intriguing migration process of all.
Using the sun’s position and through sensing the magnetic pull of the Earth, the butterflies go to exactly the same spots every year. In North America, the population east of the Rocky Mountains go to Mexico, while those west go to California. There they gather in clusters, forming micro-climates which sustain them over winter, without food, and with barely any water.
When winter is over these butterflies mature, mate and travel north in search of their favorite plant, the milkweed, in order to lay eggs and start the cycle once more. The most interesting fact about this is that only the fourth generation butterflies know exactly where they have to go, and are capable of living up to eight months.
Several problems including the drastic decline of the milkweed, have led to the decrease in population from one billion in mid-1990s to just 33 million in 2013. The monarch butterflies are currently considered for inclusion in the Endangered Species Act, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scheduled to give a full conclusion to the investigation in spring next year.
Yet there is still hope for the butterfly, and we see this in a small example from Pinellas Park, where Mary Mackenzie, local gardener has taken matters into her own hands. Over the last year, she has planted over 300 milkweed bushes, mostly in Clearwater Park and Pinellas Park.
During this volunteer work as a gardener for the city, she’s helped spread awareness for the dying monarch, and encouraged people to help the butterflies by planting milkweed themselves, and by protecting the caterpillars they find on them.
Image source: nationofchange.org