The monarchs have started their spring migration north and you might even see one soon (not exciting if you live in FL or HI where there are year-round residents, or in CA where there are separate overwintering spots). Reports from their winter locations in Mexico however are dismal; with possibly the lowest population size since the colonies were discovered in 70′s. A few bad storms in and along the butterfly’s route, coupled with habitat fragmentation and logging, has probably killed 50-60% of the mexican monarch population (according to reports below).
Is this anything special to be concerned about? I don’t particularly think so. Weather was the key player in this year’s record low population, and I can imagine the butterflies have seen numbers this bad before us humans were around to count them. I will bet anything on the population making a recovery in the years to come, no need to run around screaming, the monarch will be in your garden this summer and next.
Monarchs are pretty and kids love them, so it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to figure out why so much effort is put into monitoring them. But as a lepidopterist, nothing is as boring as yet another report on the “plight” of the monarchs Zzzzzzzzzzzz. I tend to believe there are more pressing issues to be concerned about, such as the accelerating rate of biodiversity loss in the face of scientific ignorance. Monarchs do play an important role as a public mascot and even as a figurehead species that help preserve precious habitat – but let’s use them as a foot in the door for further education. Yes, the Monarch Butterfly Fund, is striving for habitat protection and sustainability. A good thing. I understand that this achieves a positive outcome, but why only in the name of the monarch? This seems like a spectacular opportunity for science education that is just rounded down to “save the monarch”. These forests serve as much more than a shelter to one butterfly species and even more than “an important carbon sink and oxygen generator”.
Instead I suggest this. It is by far, orders of magnitude, more interesting: