Monarch butterflies are famous in North America for their unique migration patterns and spectacular beauty. According to the World Wildlife Fund, monarch butterflies have the scientific name of Danaus plexippus, which in Greek means "sleepy transformation." The name refers to the species' ability to hibernate and metamorphize.
Monarch butterflies inspire interest in the natural world and act as pollinators in the ecosystem. Although they weigh only half a gram, they migrate over 2000 miles from the United States and Canada to central Mexican forests every year. Unfortunately, monarch butterfly populations are rapidly declining.
The free film Pursuing the Monarchs explores the importance of monarch butterflies and the causes of monarch butterfly population decline. It states that in twenty years, up to 90% of the monarch butterfly population has disappeared. Twenty years ago, there were as many as a billion butterflies, but now there are only a few million butterflies left.
A biology graduate student found that one leading cause of monarch butterfly population decline is the rise in genetically engineered crops and herbicides. Genetically engineered crops and herbicides have poisonous chemicals that cause disease and harm milkweeds, which are the only host plant in which monarch butterflies may lay eggs. A decline in milkweeds leads to a decline in monarch butterflies.
The second leading cause of the monarch butterfly population decline is Mexican deforestation, which plays a vital role in the second part of the monarch life cycle.
Monarch lifecycles span through four generations: three generations that live and reproduce in the United States in the spring and summer, and one generation that spends the winter in Mexico. After interviewing people in Mexico, who all wished to remain anonymous, a biology graduate student found that illegal logging and wood harvesting for domestic use contribute to habitat loss and deforestation.
The third leading cause is climate change. According to the Frontiers in Environmental Science Journal, natural disasters such as hurricanes, forest fires, and blizzards destroy trees and kill many monarch butterflies, who are at risk due to low temperatures and rain.
Pursuing the Monarchs also explores how we can combat monarch butterfly population decline, which is a significant and urgent environmental issue. Monarch butterflies are an indicator of ecosystem health, so we must assist with conservation efforts. We better regulate logging while finding more environmentally friendly options for farmers and loggers who are farming and logging out of necessity.
Forests and other natural resources should have more value than wood sources because they benefit the ecosystem. Factory farming is expensive when we account for external costs such as pollution and animal abuse. We can limit the number of tourists at a reserve or resource if there is high demand. We can plant trees, establish forest plans and buffer zones, and identify the right places for the correct management practices. We can eat fewer animal products and more plant products.
These changes will create a more resilient monarch butterfly population.
Pursuing the Monarchs features a nine-year-old girl named Lorraine, who raises chickens and has a more mature understanding of nature than most adults. Instead of running away from problems, she faces problems and takes on responsibility. We should follow her example when it comes to environmental protection.
As Brookdale students and TIN environmental activists, we are raising awareness of monarch butterfly population decline by building a monarch waystation and meditation garden. We invite you to follow our journey on Instagram @ TIN_BCC.
Simple changes will allow monarch butterflies to thrive for generations to come.