Monarch butterflies have made an impressive return to their winter resting place in California, after a record number of surveys last year. Experts see the return as a grain of hope for endangered species, which were thought to be close to extinction for the region.
Xerces Society does an annual count of monarch butterflies that migrate west around early November. A 2020 survey showed that “only 1,914 monarchs were counted at any site. This is a shocking 99.9% drop since the 1980s. ”
But, an unofficial tally by researchers and volunteers showed that there were already more than 50,000 monarchs at common landing sites in 2021, according to a report from the Xerces Society.
Monarch butterflies were declared an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2020.
“I don’t remember having had such a bad year before and thought it was over. They were gone. They’ll never come back and of course this year, boom, they’ve landed, ”said Moe Ammar, president of the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, also known as“ Butterfly Town, USA ”.
Experts are not sure why the population has taken off this year, but it is suggested that it may have come from better breeding areas and an influx from the east coast.
“Climatic factors may have influenced the population. We could have received an influx of monarchs from the eastern United States, which can sometimes happen, but it’s unclear why the population is what it is this year, ”said Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
The polls have been conducted annually since 1997 and are known as the “Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count”. It lasts three weeks, with Thanksgiving being a focal point.
Western monarchs are known to return to the same places every year, including even the same trees. They alternate from the Pacific Northwest to California during a change of seasons to warm up. They usually start to spread again around March.
A city just south of San Francisco, Pacific Grove, is known to be one of the most popular neighborhoods for them. The city has worked for years to help the population decline. It is referred to as “Butterfly Town, USA”, where even playing with a monarch can fine someone $ 1,000.
Last year, the city did not register any monarch butterflies. This year, the count showed around 13,000 of them.
Climate change and agriculture are believed to be the main reason for the decline of western monarch butterflies since the 1980s, researchers say. The butterfly’s habitat consists of areas filled with milkweed, which have been uprooted due to housing construction.
“California has been in a drought for several years now and it needs nectar sources in order to fill its tummy, be active and survive,” said Stephanie Turcotte Edenholm, a teacher at the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum who offers Guided tours of the sanctuary. “If we don’t have sources of nectar and we don’t have the water to provide it, then that’s a problem.”