WWF-Canada Blog:
Climate


Monarch butterfly migration at risk of disappearing

Every November, monarch butterflies arrive in the mountain forests of central Mexico to hibernate for the winter, having travelled up to 4,500 kilometers from Canada and the United States. Their two-month journey is the second longest migration of all known insects.

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) flying in warmth of midday sun, overwintering colony in Michoacan, Mexico © naturepl.com / Ingo Arndt / WWF-Canon

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) flying in warmth of midday sun, overwintering colony in Michoacan, Mexico © naturepl.com / Ingo Arndt / WWF-Canon

In the most recent migration, fewer of the orange- and red-winged monarchs made it to the end of the journey than ever before. The monarch butterfly population in Mexico was the lowest ever since 1993 (the year scientists started to monitor monarch butterfly colonies), according to research just released by the WWF-Telcel Alliance and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve Office of the Mexican government.

The research shows a 43.7% decrease (nearly three acres) in the total amount of forestland occupied by monarchs in and near Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The research was conducted over several weeks in December 2013 and the decrease is in relation to December 2012 research.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) © Frédy Mercay / WWF

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) © Frédy Mercay / WWF

Why has the population dropped?

The decrease is due to threats monarchs experienced during their journey. At the beginning, their primary food source (milkweed plants) was in short supply because herbicides used more regularly for agriculture in the US had killed many of the plants.

While en route, they faced extreme weather conditions, including higher than normal temperatures and storms. Temperatures above 35°C can be lethal for monarch larvae. Eggs dry out in hot, arid conditions, causing a drastic decrease in hatch rate. Monarchs prefer milder temperatures.

Once they reached their hibernation sites in Mexico, they encountered scarce and deteriorating forests, the direct result of illegal logging.

Monarch Butterflies in Wintering Area.  Danaus plexippus.  Copulation, Highlands in Mexico. © Fritz Pölking / WWF

Monarch Butterflies in Wintering Area. Danaus plexippus. Copulation, Highlands in Mexico. © Fritz Pölking / WWF

What is WWF doing to help?

WWF works with the local communities, government and private sector to preserve butterfly habitat—mainly oyamel fir and pine trees—in Mexico by promoting good forest management and sustainable tourism. More than 80,000 tourists visit the monarch hibernation colonies annually.

WWF and its partners also support sustainable businesses, such as mushroom production and tree nurseries that help restore forests. The businesses create new sources of income and food for the local communities that live among the butterflies. And WWF helped create the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund to offer long-term economic incentives to communities committed to preserving forest in the reserve’s core zone. The fund’s benefits accrue to those communities which succeed in reducing illegal logging in the area.


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