Farewell to the Queen! Colorful Monarch butterflies are going extinct
Drastic decline in butterfly populations due to reduction of milkweed
Monarch butterflies, the colorful brand of butterflies known for their bright orange and black wings, have become afar rarer occurrence today. There's a reason behind that: The destruction of milkweed, the butterflies' main source of food, has been largely eliminated from North America's western shores. These vivid examples of backyard wildlife have since become endangered.
Experts agree measured steps must be taken to make sure that the Monarch butterflies don't go extinct.
The Monarch butterflies' habitat range stretches all along the west coast of North America. They take flight more than 2,500 miles from southern Canada and the U.S. down into Mexico. Millions of the butterflies take refuge from the cold in Mexico's temperate forests, holing up until March when they return to the north.
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Several factors have contributed to the butterfly's disappearance, according to World Wildlife Fund researchers. The largest contributing factors are loss of habitat and reduction of milkweed, the Monarchs' primary food source.
"The combination of these threats has led to a dramatic decline in the number of monarch butterflies arriving to Mexico to hibernate over the past decade," Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico, said in a statement. "Twenty years after the signing of the [North American Free Trade Agreement], the monarch butterfly migration -- a symbol of cooperation between our three countries -- is in grave danger."
The Monarch butterflies, which clump together in trees by the thousands, occupied more than 44 acres of forest in central Mexico during their winter migration of 18 years ago. The butterflies' covered just 2.93 acres of forest last year. The Monarchs' space measured less than 2 acres, which is a 44 percent decrease from the same time the previous year.
"The migration is definitely proving to be an endangered biological phenomenon," Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, said. "The main culprit is now GMO herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA, [which] leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch's principal food plant, common milkweed."
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed off the plant. Researchers say that without milkweed, there are no butterflies.
"They can't lay eggs on anything else," Christopher Singer, founder of the nonprofit Live Monarch Foundation, said in a statement. "Can't lay it on a watermelon, can't lay it on a parsley plant. It has to be a milkweed plant."
Experts agree measures steps must be taken to make sure that the Monarch butterflies don't go extinct. The Monarch migration is big business in parts of Mexico and California, where tourists flock to witness the butterflies' annual journey for themselves.
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