Last days of the Monarch butterfly

Despite my best attempts with butterfly gardens and milkweed, the grand total number of Monarch butterflies I saw last summer: 1. It was quite a moment.

That’s not terribly surprising since conservation experts warned us that the number of Monarchs at their Mexico winter home was quite low.

It’s even worse now. This year, the experts announced today, Monarchs cover only 1.65 acres. Last year, they covered almost three acres. In 1995, they covered more than 44 acres.

The chance of seeing a Monarch butterfly in Minnesota this summer is quite low. The Associated Press reports today the annual migration to the south may end forever and the decline of the butterfly is now a long-term statistical trend.

It’s unclear what would happen to the Monarchs if they no longer migrated. The butterflies can apparently survive year-round in warmer climates, but populations in the northern United States and Canada would have to face bitter winters. There is also another small migration route that takes the butterflies to California, but that has also registered declines.

The migration is an inherited trait. No butterfly lives to make the full round-trip, and it is unclear how they remember the route back to the same patch of forest each year, a journey of thousands of miles to a forest reserve that covers 193,000 acres (56,259-hectares) in central Mexico.

Inhabitants of the reserve had already noted a historic change, as early as the Nov. 1-2 Day of the Dead holiday, when the butterflies usually arrive.

“They were part of the landscape of the Day of the Dead, when you could see them flitting around the graveyards,” said Gloria Tavera, the director of the reserve. “This year was the first time in memory that they weren’t there.”

What we did to the bald eagle, we’re doing to the Monarch butterfly. It’s not hard to find the cause, Slate says. There’s the decline of milkweed because more fields are being planted. But there’s also Roundup, because we don’t like weeds more than we do like butterflies.

It’s no coincidence monarchs faltered at the same time. Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, and a colleague estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent. Oberhauser determined that the loss of milkweed almost exactly mirrored the decline in monarch egg production.

“We have this smoking gun,” Oberhauser said. “This is the only thing that we’ve actually been able to correlate with decreasing monarch numbers.”

Soon there will be essentially no monarchs on cropland in the corn belt, according to some estimates. Already, Iowa farmland has lost more than 98 percent of the milkweed that was once there, according to Iowa State University biologist John Pleasants, who worked with Oberhauser. He’s seen firsthand the transformation as he has studied cornfields during the past decade and a half. Before Roundup, patches of milkweed grew among the corn and along the edges of fields. After the herbicide—nothing but corn.

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  • MrE85

    “What we did to the bald eagle, we’re doing to the Monarch butterfly.”
    By that I hope you meant protecting, and helping to come back.
    Like you, I’m doing my part by growing some swamp milkweed in my back yard, expressly for these guys, whose larvae feed on nothing else. And yes, I saw a couple of Monarchs. Normally I would see dozens.

  • PaulCherubini
    • chuck

      What’s inconvenient? Those butterflies are all migrants – they didn’t grow up there.

      • PaulCherubini

        Minnesota’s farm road ditches have lots of milkweed and that’s where monarchs lay their eggs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MqrvAxTl0I

        • Google the guy

          Does posting on every article about the decline of the Monarch help your sales for pesticides, Paul?

          • Donna Mae Lober

            Paul is a goon…he keeps telling about all our butterflies in MN…well I live in MN and I see one or 2 a year…he better just run along!!!

  • David

    So, you’re advocating for a guest Monarch policy for immigation?

  • Jim G

    “Before Roundup, patches of milkweed grew among the corn and along the edges of fields. After the herbicide—nothing but corn.”

    Corn that is used in most instances to fuel our automobiles.

    I saw three monarchs last summer on our butterfly weeds. What a loss! I have noticed that the little yellow butterflies I use to see along the sides of the roads aren’t there in August in the numbers they use to have. My truck’s radiator has never been cleaner.

    • PaulCherubini

      Last August monarchs were this abundant along a farm road surrounded by GMO crops near Albert Lea, Minnesota:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvFVvsNvW7U

      • Veronica

        And, shortly after this video was taken, the monarch butterflies DIED.

        I don’t know that for sure, but it could be true. Just sayin’.

        • PaulCherubini

          No, even monarch caterpillars thrive on milkweeds growing right next to the GMO corn and soybean fields and I’ve filmed newly emerged monarchs in the late morning hours with still soft wings that can fly only short distances right next to these GMO fields too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjE68sYoimo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXkrf7eZw5k http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8d8abPhdly0

          • Ma Barker

            Paul,

            Shilling for the pesticide industry…

            FYI: I used to see more Monarchs in my backyard (small, grassy, S Mpls, backyard) than any of your pictures depict.

            Furthermore, one fall way back in the mid-1980’s I was visiting my folks in SW Iowa during the Monarch migration. What must have been at least 10 thousand Monarchs landed for the night on a huge ancient oak tree on the edge one of my parents fields. This tree which itself was probably at least 100 years old and 75 feet tall was literally covered in Monarch butterflies. It was a sight neither I nor my folks will ever forget–one of life’s small, but really truely memorable moments.

          • PaulCherubini

            10,000’s slightly northeast of Norfolk, Nebraska at the end of August 2009 THREE YEARS AFTER the milkweed growing within corn and soybean fields had been eliminated by Roundup: http://www.learner.org/cgi-bin/jnorth/jn-query-byday?1251512337.

            I flew there after I read that report and personally witnessed multiple cluster spots with between 1,000 and 15,000 monarchs. It could happen again because there is still enough milkweed in the farm road ditches to support those numbers.

          • What a shill

            Paul, QUIT SHILLING FOR THE PESTICIDE COMPANIES. You are spouting ANECDOTAL evidence, when the scientific evidence shows that Monarch populations are dwindling. Sorry if this may be bad for your business, but YOUR BUSINESS IS KILLING MONARCHS. Please go away.

            GOOGLE PAUL CHERUBINI and you will find out he is a PESTICIDE SALESMAN.

          • Donna Mae Lober

            THANK YOU, I also wish that Paul would ‘get lost’! He is not helping! Maybe himself, that would be about it.

  • has20birds

    In Central America, the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to a pre-Columbian past. In the language of the native Purépecha Indians, the monarch butterfly is called the harvesterbutterfly, because they
    appear when it’s time to harvest the corn. Believed to give flight to the spirit, these winged creatures of transformation long associated with departed warriors, come at a time when Mexicans express their heartfelt fears, joys, sorrows and hopes.

    In the pre-Hispanic era, skulls were commonly kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. The festival reminds all that life and death are cyclical, one forms the other. Dedicated to the goddess Catrina, known as the Lady of the Dead, she has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but originally catrina was an elegant or well-dressed woman. It’s a rye reminder that Death is a neutralizing force.

  • has20birds

    In Central America

    The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to a pre-Columbian past. In the language of the native Purépecha Indians, the monarch butterfly is called the harvester butterfly. Its 2,500 mile migration coincides with the ripening of the corn. Believed to give flight to the spirit, these winged creatures of transformation long associated with departed warriors. They come at a time when Mexicans express their heartfelt fears, joys, sorrows and hopes. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them and thus be reconnected.

    In the pre-Hispanic era, skulls were commonly kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. The icon of the holiday is the goddess Catrina. Known as the Lady of the Dead, she symbolizes not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to
    laugh at death itself, but also appearing as La Calavera Catrina (‘Dapper Skeleton’, ‘Elegant Skull’), she is offered as a satirical portrait of those Mexican natives who were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic traditions in the pre-revolutionary era. It’s meant as a rye social comment on how
    richness is no protection against the ultimate neutralizing force. The
    festival reminds all that life and death are cyclical, one forms the other.

    How ironic.