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Mexico hopes to see more monarch butterflies this year

  • Monarch butterflies hibernate at the monarch butterfly reserve in Piedra Herrada, Mexico state, Mexico. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
  • A guide holds up a damaged and dying butterfly at the monarch butterfly reserve in Piedra Herrada, Mexico. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
  • U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press

PIEDRA HERRADA, Mexico (AP) — The number of monarch butterflies reaching their wintering grounds in central Mexico this year may be three to four times higher than the previous season, authorities said last month.

     Speaking during a visit to a monarch reserve with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Mexican Environment Secretary Rafael Pacchiano said initial reports suggest the butterfly population is rebounding. "We estimate that the butterfly population that arrives at the reserve is as much as three and could reach four times the surface area it occupied last season," Pacchiano said.

     The population of orange-and-black butterflies making the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) migration from the United States and Canada declined in recent years and two years ago the butterflies reached a low point, covering only 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares), the lowest since record-keeping began in 1993.

     The monarchs cluster so closely in trees that their numbers are measured by the area they cover. They once blanketed as much as 44 acres (18 hectares). Pacchiano said the butterfly colonies could cover 3 or 4 hectares (7.8 to 9.9 acres) this year.

     "The United States is very committed to protecting the monarch butterfly, but we need the help of Mexico and Canada," Jewell said before hiking an hour into the mountains to see the trees where the monarchs roost.

     She said the United States is working to reintroduce milkweed, a plant key to the butterflies' migration, on about 3 million hectares (1,160 square miles) within five years, both by planting and by designating pesticide-free areas. Milkweed is the plant the butterflies feed and lay their eggs on, but it has been attacked by herbicide use in the United States.

     Mexico, too, still has problems. Illegal logging more than tripled in the monarch butterflies' wintering grounds last year, reversing several years of steady improvements. The forest canopy acts as a sort of blanket against the cold for butterflies that form huge clumps on tree branches during their winter stay in Mexico.

     The migration is an inherited trait: No butterfly lives to make the full round trip, and it is unclear how they find their way back to the same patch of pine forest each year. Some scientists suggest the butterflies may release chemicals marking the migratory path and fear that if their numbers fall too low the chemical traces will not be strong enough for others to follow.

 

 

 

Issue Month: 
Friday, December 4, 2015