Monarch butterflies are famous for their striking orange and black wings. These beautiful, elegant insects are also famous for their impressive migratory regime. Wintering in Mexico, they travel as far north as southern Canada in the spring. However, as with many other species, the delicate natural rhythms of their migration are threatened by global warming and habitat loss. Fortunately, during the winter of 2021 to 2022, 35% more butterflies congregated in their winter home than last year, suggesting a possible path of resilience for the species.
Every October and November, thousands of monarch butterflies flock to the sheltered, forested mountains west of Mexico City. Typically, they return to cooler northern climates in March. However, in the 2020 to 2021 season, the butterflies fled in February, suggesting that climate change may alter their pattern due to climate change. Yet in the spring of 2022, the butterflies lingered until April. It is not known exactly why, but it suggests that the species is adapting to a rapidly changing world.
Butterflies depend on trees when in their Mexican home. Logging, fires, drought and plant diseases are aggravating deforestation. Although logging activity has increased over the past year, other factors have caused less damage and resulted in less total loss of flora. The decline of milkweed in the United States, which monarch caterpillars eat, has also affected their numbers. Pesticides and the clearing of forested areas endanger this vital plant. Activists are encouraging Americans to plant milkweed to combat habitat loss, but those living in Mexico shouldn’t. The plant could mistakenly encourage insects to linger, interfering with their natural rhythm.
While butterflies are still at the mercy of climate change, their recently rebounded numbers in Mexico suggest they may be able to adapt their schedule to a changing climate. Last winter, 160,000 tourists flocked to see the magnificent winged creatures gathered in the trees of the butterfly sanctuaries. Butterflies may adapt, but we humans have to adapt too. Fighting climate change will only make survival easier and safer for this incredible species.
Last winter, more monarch butterflies than the year before flocked to their winter home in Mexico.
h/t: [The Guardian]
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