Monarch Butterflies Are in Trouble!
By Shlomo Maital
After blogging about the incredible monarch butterly and its 8,000 km. migration, I am saddened to learn that the Monarchs are in trouble, because of us humans of course.
The annual migration south of the butterflies should have brought 60 million of them to their feeding grounds in Mexico. Instead only 3 million have arrived! Yikes. Why?
Partly because farmers use tons of Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, which kills everything but genetically modified plants, engineered to resist it. This means it also kills milkweed, which is exclusively what Monarch larvae eat. (Why? As I wrote – to make them poisonous and not tasty for birds).
Writing in the New York Times, VERLYN KLINKENBORG summarizes the terrible threats to the Monarch butterflies: “For the past 15 years, scientists have been watching monarch numbers plummet, as much as 81 percent between 1999 and 2010. They reached nearly catastrophic lows in the winter of 2009-2010 and have barely recovered since. One recent study suggests that the long-term survival of the species may be in doubt. A few weeks ago, one of the scientists devoted to studying monarchs, Ernest Williams at Hamilton College, summarized for me the threats that have been reported in recent studies. Nearly every link in the monarchs’ chain of being, he said, is at risk. Illegal logging in Mexico has reduced their winter habitat — an already vanishingly small area, which is itself being altered by the warming climate. Ecotourists who come to witness the congregation of so many butterflies disturb the creatures they have come to see. But perhaps most damaging is the demise of milkweed. What looks like agricultural success, purging bean and corn fields of milkweed (among other weeds), turns out to be butterfly disaster. This is the great puzzle of species conservation — it has to be effective at nearly every stage of a species’ life cycle. And this, too, is the dilemma of human behavior. We live in a world of unintended consequences of our own making, which can never be easily undone.”
Over millions of years, Nature has evolved incredibly delicate, complex ecosystems. When we damage one tiny part of it – a fragile butterly, an amazing bee – the whole system is endangered. My grandchildren may one day see Monarch butterflies – in museums, on pins. Alas.