After years of dramatic decline, the Monarch butterfly winter population has increased. Populations hibernating in the Mexican mountains now cover about 10 acres, an area three times larger than the space they covered last year. Monarch butterflies total about 140 million, an increase from 35 million butterflies two years ago.
“We are seeing the beginning of success,” said Daniel Ashe, director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our task now is to continue building on that success.”
Scientists and environmentalists said a variety of factors contributed to the increase: new plantings of milkweed, mild weather, and efforts to protect the Mexican forests from illegal logging. The United States plans to replace about 7.5 million acres of milkweed either by planting or by stopping the use of pesticides/herbicides that destroy it. The area of milkweed increased by about 250,000 acres last year. Milkweed is both a food source and the host plant for Monarchs to lay their eggs.
But the Monarchs are still in peril and conservation efforts need to continue. The population would need to grow substantially to survive storms like the one in 2002 that killed about 500 million butterflies. They also face warming weather in Mexico, due to climate change, that could alter its winter habitat.
What You Can Do for the Monarch
I love this story. Not only it is good news for the Monarch, but it also shows how we humans can affect positive change. By planting milkweed and not using chemicals in your garden, you can offer a safe haven for the Monarch butterfly. Common milkweed is a plant often thought as “weedy”. But reconsider. Milkweed provides valuable nectar for other pollinators as well.
There are other varieties of milkweed that are beautiful and look great in our gardens. For instance Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), also called rose milkweed or red milkweed, is a great looking plant. I love the color of the flowers and they smell like vanilla. Other types of milkweed include, Prairie milkweed and Butterfly weed. Since they are native to North America, they are easy to grow. Check out many varieties available at Prairie Moon Nursery.
photo credit: Butterflies! via photopin (license)
photo credit: Swamp Milkweed via photopin (license)