Monarch butterflies saw a resurgence in Mexico

Monarch butterflies may be harder than we give them credit for. The orange beauties made a surprising comeback this winter in Mexico, environmental groups and Mexico’s Commission for Protected Natural Areas announced this week.

To avoid frigid temperatures further north, the butterflies flutter thousands of miles south of Canada and the US to spend the winter months in Mexico. In December, authorities there Hospitalized a 35 percent increase in the monarch butterfly’s presence in Mexican forests.

It’s a show of resilience for a species whose numbers have declined to worrying lows in the region over the past decade. They face serious threats from destruction of living environment and climate changeso much so that the non-profit center for biological diversity is a lawsuit last year to urge the US to protect them under the Endangered Species Act.

The butterflies drape themselves over the forest, sometimes thick enough to change the color of the landscape from green to gold. To measure their distribution, authorities take stock of the land area they cover. Their last count came in at 2.84 hectares (7 acres), an increase of more than a third from 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres) the previous year. Sure, they were much more abundant in the past. In 2018, they covered more than 6 hectares of forest.

Papillon's monarques (Danaus plexippus)

Photo by Sylvain CORDIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The butterflies have quickly lost habitat due to deforestation in Mexico. Farther north, they lose the abundance of milkweed, the only plant monarch caterpillars eat. This is largely driven by urban and agricultural development. But climate change has also led to fires, heatwaves and droughts that topple the trees and plants that make them at home. They are also very sensitive to extreme weather, as the temperature points them to important milestones, such as when to reproduce or migrate.

Fortunately, the butterfly’s comeback in Mexico last winter may be a sign that the butterflies are learning to adapt to more extreme weather caused by climate change. Last year the butterflies left their perches in Mexico quite early, The Associated Press reports† They started their journey north in February, and they usually do so in March after arriving in Mexico in October or November.

While this is a bright spot for the conservation of the species, the threats to the butterflies and their habitat have not diminished. Last year there was more wood in their territory, AP reports, and that was only mitigated because fire, drought and disease have cut fewer trees.

As a climate reporter, resilience is a big part of my battle. And I hear from communities on the front lines of climate change that they shouldn’t be so resilient in the face of man-made disasters in the first place. But I’ve also learned, especially with today’s news cycle, to celebrate the wins as they happen.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.