The 2017 count has been released, and the monarch population is down by 27% in Mexico this year. This is devastating news, but unfortunately not a shock, because there has been a downward trend over the past decade and the late winter storm last February took a toll on the population. The dramatic decline over the last few years is due to habitat loss and some weather-related events such as drought and cold temperatures.
Every year, the northern monarch butterflies migrate to warmer temperatures in Southern California and Mexico. During the breeding season, the monarch cycles through 3-5 generations,and only the final generation migrates to Mexico; however, the habitat in the region has been greatly reduced.
Monarch caterpillars feed solely on the milkweed plant. Due to agricultural practices such as GMO's, the milkweed is not as readily available as it once was years ago. The monarchs also depend on the warm climate to survive the winter, but extreme temperatures have impacted their breeding grounds. Illegal logging is also to blame for threatening the monarchs' forest.
You may feel that there is not much you can do individually to fix the problem, but by creating a monarch habitat in your own backyard, you can make a big difference. First, find out which milkweed plants are native to your area and plant them. Avoid using pesticides, which kill monarchs at all stages of the life cycle. Provide nectar plants for the butterflies during the fall migration. Make it a point to report your observations to local organizations so they can continue to collect data. Additionally, consider contributing to conservation efforts that protect monarch habitats at the overwintering sanctuaries in Mexico.
And, know that you can influence your local government and roadside managers to mow around milkweed patches. Many of the workers mowing are on "autopilot" and just getting their job done by mowing everything. When you explain the importance of milkweed and monarch habitat, you are able to help them implement land management practices for better habitat.
We can't predict the future, but we do know that the evidence suggests this trend will continue if action isn't taken. If you enjoy seeing these orange and black painted creatures in your area, get involved. If we all do something, in a few years we will be looking at different statistics.
Thank you for your efforts to protect and restore monarch habitat!