June 8, 2016: The Monarch Butterfly: The Journey Less Traveled

~by Susi Pittman

Perhaps the best known butterfly of North America is the fiery-colored and beautiful Monarch. These delicate creatures exhibit incredible fortitude as they make their late summer/early autumn migration from the United States and southern Canada, to Mexico and coastal California. Their migration routes, ranging anywhere from 1,000-3,000 miles was fully documented in the 20th century and considered one of the grandest entomological discoveries of the time.

Fat, stored in the abdomen, is a critical element of their survival for the winter. This fat not only fuels their flight, but must last until the next spring when they begin the flight back north. Monarchs stop to drink their nectar along their southern journey and actually gain weight during the trip. Some researchers think that Monarchs conserve their “fuel” in flight by gliding on air currents as they travel south.

Living here in North Florida, I look forward to seeing them in the spring and fall seasons as they flit about the nectar flowers in the yard, keeping my cats on the back porch entertained. This year is proving to be concerning here, with less activity in my yard as compared to the year before. The Migration of 2016 is proving to be a mixed bag in sightings with the Midwest, California and the South somewhat meager, but the Northeast corridor and Texas sightings reflecting good showings.

The population of Monarchs wintering in Mexico was the lowest on record. And with only a small number of Monarchs making it to Canada in the spring of 2016, Canadian conservationists have estimated that their Monarch population is down 90%.

Why is that? What is happening to them? How does that reflect on man and the environment?

Monarchs rely on the wind which can either be its blessing or its downfall to get to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico.

Their favorite plant is the milkweed. The croplands of the Midwest and are their breeding grounds and in recent years there is concern that herbicides sprayed in the corn and soybean fields which kills the milkweed could be a factor. This same activity could be the problem in the South. Monarchs lay their eggs in the milkweed. The Corn Belt is the hub of population propagation and the increased expansion of the breed into other areas. Most of the Canadian population arrives from the Corn Belt, thus a reason for concern in Canada’s population drop.

Human suburbia is moving into open fields which once held prodigious amounts of milkweed.

The Mexican mountain forest areas where the Monarchs winter are reflecting a drop in acreage habitation…reflecting less butterflies are arriving.

For the past two-years weather conditions in Texas and the northern tier of the United States has been unfavorable for the Monarchs. Texas was too warm in March, too cold in April and May. The rain just doesn’t want to stop, causing major flooding.

All of these reasons are disconcerting for me. I do miss seeing these beautiful creatures and am concerned for their survival.

They are insects and as insects do, they can bounce back!

My personal feelings are that we are beginning to see a long term decline. The ebb and flow of natural weather conditions, coupled with herbicides and the destruction of Monarch habitat are perhaps the key players in their decline.

I would like to encourage city dwellers and farm dwellers alike to consider placing milkweed abundantly around their properties to help sustain and encourage the survival of this magnificent creature.

Get great instruction from MONARCH WATCH for growing and propagating milkweed on your property.

Treat yourself to a beautiful documentary, The Flight of the Butterflies.


Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; a member of the St. John’ s Catholic Writers Guild;
a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the National Wildlife Federation, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.



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