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The Vanishing Monarch Butterflies

Why Are Monarch Butterflies Vanishing?

How alluring a sight it is to see the beautiful Monarch butterflies, “the king of butterflies” roaming around your garden and the nearby vicinity. For the people of America, the monarch butterflies are always a part of their memorable childhood, from which they learned about pupae, larvae, metamorphosis and a score of other things related to its life cycle.

But, recent studies reveal some disheartening data regarding the Monarch species. Endangered species like lions, elephants and porpoises grabbed everybody’s attention, but the decreasing population of Monarch was only very recently noticed. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service disclosed recently that from the year 1990, around a billion Monarch butterflies have vanished.

Reasons Behind Their Disappearance

This crucial data was revealed after a petition was filed by some environmental group and a researcher on Monarch species. They alleged that the use of weed-resistant material and herbicides, is continuing to ruin and their original habitat, and may well be the main reason leading to the consistent extinction of the Monarchs. The use of such harmful chemicals led to the destruction of milkweed plants, the only plant on which the Monarch caterpillars feed on. This review is a proof of the massacre encountered by this lovely little creature. 

The extinction of Monarch butterflies derived from the decreasing numbers reaching Mexico by way of migration, in the last two decades. Now, it has gone below the lowest recorded level of a mere 35 million. Instead of spreading in the whole 45 acres like in 1996, it covered only an area of 1.7 acres that included 11 sanctuaries during this winter. The World Wildlife Fund announced this fact, and concluded that the expansion of agricultural areas has led to this disaster. In 1980, around 26 acres in the Midwest was covered with the hardy plant, milkweed, but now the grasslands of the Upper Midwest has been drastically converted into Soya Bean and Corn fields, which are cultivated using a large amount of herbicides and weed-resistant chemicals to protect their cultivation. The female Monarch butterflies flutter across this area in search of a host plant to lay her eggs, little knowing that her habitat has been wiped off from this landscape, in an alarming way. By 1999, around 97% of milkweed was eradicated. Other than these areas, milkweed was also commonly found along the roadsides, edges of farms and fields, but with the regular use of herbicides, it was rooted out from all the other places as well.

For the last two years, another factor adds to their disappearance. Studies reveal that the swinging climate probably due to global warming, in the last two years could also be a main reason for their decreasing population. In the United States, in 2012, Spring experienced a temperature far above normal. This led the Monarchs to migrate earlier to the colder climate, before the milkweed plant emerged. Later, the following year experienced a severe cold climate, causing a hindrance to their migration towards the north.

The other factor could be the after effects of uncertain climates, like the spreading of diseases, parasites and other bacterial infections.

Still another angle is that the population of the males is decreasing drastically, resulting in the reproduction occurring merely during the long migration period.

Researchers also believe that illegal logging might have also contributed to this shocking disaster.

With a view to restoring the destruction caused to the Monarch butterfly species, the Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Wildlife Federation has combined made an attempt to grow as many milkweed trees as possible to create a habitat for this endangered species.

The Center For Biological Diversity has filed a petition to include the Monarch butterflies in the list of endangered species, and to do the needful to protect them and help them survive, which is still under review by the Fish and Wildlife agency. For an ‘On the Ground Conservation’ project, the agency has provided $2 million to make the basic arrangements.

 Some federations are helping to create awareness among the locals and the farmers about the importance of milkweed, and its role in multiplying the population of the endangered Monarch species. They will provide milkweed seeds for everyone who is interested and willing to contribute in this attempt of creating a natural habitat for this species. These allotted seeds are supposed to be planted in any open spaces like roadsides, forests, parks, patio flower boxes, in own house backyards and several other similar places.

The Fish and Wildlife agency has decided to cultivate the milkweed plant in refuges and several other areas under its control to develop a natural habitat in 2,00,000 acres of land and 35 corridor Interstate, from Texas till the state of Minnesota, which is believed to be the main area where above 50% of Monarch butterflies migrate. They are planning to persuade the other states and federal agencies to follow the same procedure and cultivate this hardy plant in public lands. Encouraging the Canadian and Mexican governments, the Fish and Wildlife agency will surely have worked out an impressive plan to increase its population manifolds.

Two cities, namely, St. Louis and Charlotte have worked out plans and were successful in accomplishing them to claim themselves as the present sanctuaries for the Monarch butterfly. The president of the National Wildlife Federation, Collin O’Mara suggests that every homeowner should follow the same plan, and create a habitat for these species in their garden or backyard, wherever place is available.

The National Wildlife Federation and The Fish and Wildlife Service are committing 1.2 million $ and 2 million $ respectively to be used across the nation to work with businesses, community groups, schools and local government. This fund is used to reach the goal of creating a habitat in 20000 acres and 750 Monarch Way stations in schools and other premises.

Some initiatives are also taken to cultivate the milkweed plants in ISU greenhouses. A thousand seeds, of the milkweed plant belonging to nine different species will be grown in ISU greenhouses. When it reaches the seedling stage, it will be replanted into the plots used for demonstration in the thirteen farms involved in this research. The researchers present there, will carefully monitor the plants, like how they thrive, adapt sand proliferate. They will also study the Monarch butterflies arriving at the site, its egg laying pattern, and all other stages of life. 

Such research will help the people to understand the growing pattern of different milkweed species, and they could follow the same in their own Monarch Way station.

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