Mexico documents big rebound in monarch butterflies

Thank you to Hannah Kimberley for submitting the following story ~

mexicodocumeIn this Jan. 4, 2015 file photo, a kaleidoscope of Monarch butterflies cling to tree branches, in the Piedra Herrada sanctuary, near Valle de Bravo, Mexico. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

By Mark Stevenson, Associated Press

Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico, after suffering serious declines, experts said Friday.

The area covered by the orange-and-black insects in the mountains west of Mexico City this season was more than three and a half times greater than last winter. The butterflies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by individual insects.

The number of monarchs making the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) migration from the United States and Canada declined steadily in recent years before recovering in 2014. This winter was even better.

This December, the butterflies covered 10 acres (about 4 hectares), compared to 2.8 acres (1.13 hectares) in 2014 and a record low of 1.66 acres (0.67 hectares) in 2013.

While that’s positive, the monarchs still face problems: The butterflies covered as much as 44 acres (18 hectares) 20 years ago.

“The news is good, but at the same time we shouldn’t let our guard down,” said Omar Vidal, director of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico. “Now more than ever, Mexico, the United States, and Canada should increase their conservation efforts to protect and restore the habitat of this butterfly along its migratory route.”

The United States is working to reintroduce milkweed, a plant key to the butterflies’ migration, on about 1,160 square miles (3 million hectares) within five years, both by planting and by designating pesticide-free areas. Milkweed is the plant the butterflies feed and lay their eggs on, but it has been attacked by herbicide use and loss of open land in the United States.

Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that in the first year of that effort, the United States had managed to restore about 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) of milkweed, and raised about $20 million for the program.

“It is time for celebration because we see the beginning of success,” Ashe said. “But our task now is to continue building on that success.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Biological Diversity, which is pushing for endangered species status for the monarchs, noted that even with the rebound, the butterflies are still only at 68 percent of their 22-year average. It said in a statement that “the population was expected to be up this winter due to favorable summer weather conditions in the monarch’s U.S. breeding areas.”

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