Aug 15, 2008

Photo Friday: Monarch Butterflies

One of the many species that national wildlife refuges protect are monarch butterflies, which are rapidly losing habitat in Mexico where logging is threatening the very places where monarchs go to find protection throughout the winter.

As the National Geographic explains:

Each fall, monarchs leave milkweed fields all over eastern Canada and the United States to fly south in an unrelenting stream through Texas and into Mexico. By December, millions of monarchs have arrived at remote over-wintering sites in a transverse volcanic mountain range south of the Tropic of Cancer…Mexico’s high-altitude Oyamel fir stands offer temperatures warm enough to prevent the butterflies from freezing, yet cold enough to keep their reproductive systems dormant until spring. In addition, the density of the firs, on which the butterflies thickly festoon themselves, protects them from rain and snow while retaining enough humidity to prevent their bodies from drying out. ..These conditions, extremely rare if not unique, may explain the great effort monarchs make to get to them. Each fall, virtually the entire eastern population retreats to these few mountain tops to wait out winter.

But the safety of the retreats is now in doubt. According to a recently released study, logging has dangerously reduced both the size and density of the Oyamel stands…“We’re losing more than 2 percent of the forest every year,” says Brower, one of the authors of the study with colleagues at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the World Wildlife Fund. “At that rate, by 2050 it will be gone.”

Be sure to read the full National Geographic article for more on the threats to monarch butterflies.

Meanwhile, as migration gets underway, think about visiting a national wildlife refuge where monarch butterflies are protected and celebrated. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports:

Hundreds of national wildlife refuges and a host of programs by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protect and restore monarch butterfly habitat, monitor their transcontinental migration, and teach thousands of school children about their unique migration from Mexico through the United States on to Canada – and then back again.

Visit the USFWS Monarch Butterfly Program page for more information.

monarch butterfly

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