Cold Weather Threatens Monarchs in Mexico

January 14th, 2015

It’s been a rough few years for the monarch butterfly. By some estimates, their population sharply dropped by more than 90% , despite efforts to protect and conserve the winged-insect. A monarchmexglimmer of hope came this winter as large numbers were reported as successfully making the long journey to Mexico where they over-winter, clinging to trees and clustering together for warmth.

While the official monarch tally won’t be released until later in January, there is some concern among scientists that a colder than normal winter in Mexico could spell disaster for monarchs. According to a report by the Associated Press, the Mexican Meteorological service is predicting a colder than normal winter with 55 cold fronts expected to cross Mexico, bringing cold temperatures to the country. There’s also the chance this cold weather could extend well into March and April, further putting the butterflies at risk.

Illegal logging has caused holes in the Mexican tree canopy, which make the monarch more vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Gloria Talavera, director of Mexico’s official butterfly reserve she’s noticing strange behaviour among the butterflies, never witnessed before.

“They are seeking out canyons, seeking out more protected areas,” Talavera told the AP. “We are seeing unusual things, all of them related to the climate.”

monarchhatching webWhile butterfly numbers appear to be higher this year, there by no means close to where they once were. To get a handle on the number of butterflies that overwinter in Mexico, researchers measure the amount of acreage that the winged beauties take up during their stay.  From a high of 44.5 acres covered in 1996, last year only 1.65 acres had some degree of monarch coverage.

How can you help? Plant milkweed. Available at the GreenUP Ecology Park in the spring, milkweed is the lifeblood of monarchs. Their sole source of food, monarchs depend on a “milkweed corridor” extending the entire length of their migration route and breeding areas. GreenUP will be expanding our monarch breeding program in the spring, where we collect monarch caterpillars, see them through their transformation into a butterfly and then tag and release them back into the wild.

Monarch cluster image courtesy of Mariposa Monarca

Posted in conservation, GreenUP Ecology Park, monarch butterflies, Uncategorized