If ever there was magic, it is the indehiscent color of butterfly wings. It casts a spell on the beholder which intoxicates his heart with fullness. She flies out of her cocoon to bring a subtle change to the warm summer breeze. The monarch butterfly too is a part of this breathtaking wonder due to its bright black and orange wing colors which brings out the splendor of this world.
These butterflies are spread across the United States and Canada making it their home habitat but at the same time, they are famous for their spring migration, south towards the warm temperatures of Mexico. They have made the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico their second home. This journey is 3000 miles and they are the only known butterfly species to make a two-way migration similar to birds. The ones who migrate have a life span of 9 months whereas the breeding butterflies live for a month. Usually, every fourth generation of butterflies makes this migration therefore this species is unique as it has two distinct life spans.
Unfortunately, due to deforestation these habitats are being destroyed which has impacted the loss of breeding as well as overwintering grounds of the monarch. Conservation of these habitats is very important to the survival of monarchs. The government of Mexico recognized the significance of oyamel forests to monarch butterflies and formed the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the year 1986.
The female monarch lays the eggs on the milkweed plant which causes the eggs to be wrapped in milkweed and the caterpillar which appears once the egg is hatched feeds on this milkweed for growth and development. This very own diet makes the monarch a poisonous butterfly as milkweed is poisonous to many animals and the wings though colorful act as a warning sign for the predators (mainly birds). But due to the use of weedicides around agricultural crops the population of milkweed plants has significantly declined. This, in turn, has caused the loss of breeding grounds for the magnificent monarch. This has been the highlighting cause that has affected the distribution of these butterflies.
The western monarch and the Eastern monarch populations have declined over 99% and 80% respectively in the last three decades. This butterfly is not currently listed under the CITES Convention or protected under any U.S. domestic laws but several petitions have been brought forward since 2014 to include this species in the endangered category. The final decision will be released in December 2020.
The simple ability to adapt to change is one of the most important characteristics of life and the monarch who has been on earth since the domination of Dinosaurs 65 million years ago are losing this race and are nearing extinction. Therefore, it is our duty to protect these wonders and let this marvel be appreciated by generations to come.
By Rtr. Dinasha Fernando