As I described in a previous post, On a Wing and a Prayer, the monarch butterfly is one of the most amazing and delicate insects on our planet. But will they endure?
During what is arguably the largest migration of any living creature on Earth, tens of millions of monarch butterflies fly up to 3,000 miles from the United States and Canada south to their overwintering grounds in the forested highlands of Central Mexico (in fact, some tagged monarch butterflies have been found to travel more than 250 miles in one day!).
Since 1990, however, monarch butterfly populations have declined. The causes are widespread, and while climate change is often blamed, the reality includes significant habitat destruction/conversion and herbicide use in the agricultural fields of the U.S. Midwest, both of which diminish the milkweed that monarchs depend on.
Milkweed is vitally important to the species’ continued survival, as it is the only plant that monarch butterfly caterpillars feed upon. Fortunately, monarch butterflies are slowly making a rebound in recent years, primarily due to the fact that backyard gardeners, conservationists, and ecotourists are actively fortifying monarch habitat by creating monarch waystations and planting milkweed for the butterflies all along their migratory path.
Want to get involved and help monarch butterflies complete their annual journey? Find out which species of milkweed you can plant in your own backyard. You can also help support monarch conservation efforts by joining the World Wildlife Fund Monarch Squad.
Want to stand in the place where monarch butterflies gather by the millions each winter? You can experience this astounding natural event up close and personal with Natural Habitat Adventures on a Kingdom of the Monarchs tour.