Message from the Monarchs | News, Sports, Jobs

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Monarchs have a lot to teach us, and the fate of this amazing and ancient organism is a warning to all of us that an ecological armageddon could be underway. Photo by Becky Nystrom

Nature and its creatures are suffering and calling for our help. The message of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), a once widespread and iconic organism now threatened with extinction, is just one of many species in unprecedented decline, crying out for our attention and action. Monarchs have a lot to teach us, and the fate of this amazing and ancient organism is a warning to all of us that an ecological armageddon could be underway.

The breathtaking 3,000-mile, multi-generational migration of the Eastern Monarch between Mexico and North America is unlike any other in the world. During their spring journey north, adult butterflies feed on wildflowers for nectar, find mates, and exclusively seek out milkweed on which to lay their eggs. They only live for a few weeks. The spring migration continues north through successive generations, each critically seeking milkweed for egg laying and foraging for nectar flowers as summer days pass. In early fall, the final generation will undergo a still mysterious transformation, postponing mating until the following spring and preparing their little bodies for the long migration south to their winter home. It is these great-great-grandchildren who somehow find their way back to the ancestral oyamel fir forests of Mexico where their grandparents wintered and departed the previous spring.

According to the Xerces Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and other sources, monarch populations have dropped 80-85% over the past two decades due to landscape-scale threats from pesticides, the loss habitat, disease, severe weather, logging, and climate change. The 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services from the UN warns that the web of life is unraveling. According to IPBES President Sir Robert Watson, “The health of the ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating faster than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, our livelihoods, our food security, our health and our quality of life around the world…” While the monarch’s decline is a harbinger of environmental stress, thousands of other creatures are also silently disappearing, many of them still unknown and unnamed. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN 2022), more than 41% of amphibians, 33% of reef corals, 13% of birds, 27% of mammals, 34% of conifers and 51 % of freshwater fish are threatened with extinction. Of the more than 8 million known animal and plant species on Earth, including 5.5 million insects, 1 million are threatened with extinction within a few decades. A global “insect apocalypse” is already underway, in which insect abundance has declined by 45% over the past 40 years, and at least forty percent of all insect species are now threatened with extinction. More than a third of the integrity of Earth’s terrestrial habitat has been lost or degraded, while 85% of wetlands are no longer so. The North American monarch population is critically endangered and was recently listed as endangered by the IUCN.

And that brings us back to our beloved monarchs, the milkweeds, and the fabric of the web of life of which they are an ancient part. Without milkweed to exclusively provide monarch caterpillars with their sole source of food, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis, monarch butterflies simply cannot survive. The milkweeds of our region, including common (Asclepias syriaca), marsh (A. incarnata) and butterfly (A. tuberosa) milkweeds, are incredibly complex and beautiful plants best known for their intoxicating scent, green seed pods distinctive, their feathers delicately carried by the wind. seeds and critical role in the life cycle of the magnificent monarch butterfly. Tragically, native milkweed and monarch butterfly populations are in precipitous decline across the country. Intensive herbicide use in glyphosate-tolerant regions (“Roundup-Ready®”) corn and soybean fields and along roadways is decimating both the native nectar plants where the adults feed and the valuable milkweeds on which they lay their eggs. More than 160 million acres of monarch habitat have already been lost due to the adoption of glyphosate-tolerant crops, while an additional 6,000 acres are lost to development every DAY (2.2 million acres per year ) in the summer breeding grounds of the butterfly ().

So how can we help you? Planting milkweed gardens, protecting existing milkweed habitat, and propagating and restoring native wildflowers are essential to the survival of this much-loved butterfly. Educate others. Do not use pesticides. Create a monarch station (). Locally, support the mission of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and help us conserve our region’s wetlands, grasslands, woodlands and other wild places so that Monarchs and countless other creatures can survive and thrive!

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of lakes, streams, wetlands, and watersheds in the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit chautauquawatershed.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.



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