My grandchildren will travel through the American Midwest this summer and their professor grandfather has given them an assignment – be on the lookout for migratory monarch butterflies. Big, orange and black with some white spots, they are easy to see. The problem this year is monarchs might be hard to find. My fear is that this could be the last chance my grand kids will get to see these remarkable insect travelers.
Migratory monarch butterfly populations are under threat; combined changes in farming practices, habitat loss and capricious weather conditions imperil their survival (1, 2). As butterfly numbers dwindle the risk grows that something as simple – and probable – as an extended cold spell at their over-wintering sites in Mexico could turn catastrophic. While much concern has been focused on Mexico, a failure to preserve monarch butterfly habitat in the U. S. and Canada could also end the migrations.
Later in the summer I hope to travel to monarch butterfly territory to witness a total eclipse of the sun (3). If all goes well I will also see a few of the August hatch butterflies preparing to journey to Mexico and ride out the winter. My dream is that we will be wise enough to respect the rightful claim of migratory monarch butterflies to a place in our world. Twenty-eight years from now may my grandchildren and all gathering to witness another August total eclipse still find migratory monarch butterflies floating free in the late summer sky. And may all grandchildren of the future be granted the same privilege.
(1) Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Monarch Conservation. http://www.xerces.org/monarchs/
(2) The Guardian, 9 February 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/09/monarch-butterflies-mexico-migration-declines