The monarch butterfly is the long-distance runner–or in this case, flier–of the insect world. No other butterflies migrate as far as the monarch of North America, which flies up to three thousand miles each year. Millions of these butterflies will fly from Mexico to Canada this spring, though populations in Florida don’t travel. Come autumn, they’ll return to overwintering sites in Mexico.

The entire trip takes four generations to complete. Yes, four generations of monarchs will be born, fly, mate and die during the annual migration. And somehow, they know exactly which trees their great-great-grandparents roosted upon in Mexico’s Oyamel forest.

But they’re on the decline. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the monarch population has dropped 90% over the past 20 years. Scientists look to monarchs and other butterflies as indicators of environmental health, since they are easily affected by air and water pollution, climate change and the presence of toxins. When butterfly numbers drop, there’s a problem.

Monarch Migration Close

Source: Daily Mail

The World Wildlife Fund classifies the invertebrates as “near threatened,” which means they are “likely to become endangered in the near future.” The main problems facing monarchs are deforestation, severe weather and lack of milkweed, the primary food source for butterfly larvae.

Monarch Migration Roosting

Source: WordPress

However, scientists believe that the population can rebound if proper steps are taken. Butterflies rely on long swaths of blooming flowers as an energy supply for their long journey, which are called “nectar corridors.” Habitat management projects, like the ones supported by Monarch Watch, encourage citizens to plant milkweed in their gardens or yards, along with native plants as nectar supply. These “waystations” can even be certified through monarch conservation groups.

As a response to deforestation and illegal logging, the Mexican government protects 217 miles of forest for the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. But everyday citizens can help, too. Conservation groups encourage people to look for Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) lumber and furniture when shopping. This designation means the wood was taken in an environmentally responsible manner.

These small steps could make the difference in saving the species from extinction.

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Susan Sims
When she's not fighting crime or cleaning the garbage disposal, you can find Susan writing about travel, science and things that go bump in the night.
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