Monarch Butterflies Population Falls To Record Low, Mexican Scientists Say | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Monarch Butterflies Population Falls To Record Low, Mexican Scientists Say

Monarch butterflies that once covered 50 square acres of forest during their summer layover in central Mexico now occupy fewer than three acres, according to the latest census.

The numbers of the orange-and-black butterflies have crashed in the two decades since scientists began making a rough count of them, according to the Mexico's National Commission of Natural Protected Areas.

At a news conference on Wednesday, the commission said the count was a down 59 percent from December 2011 levels, when the insects filled 7.14 acres of fir trees in central Mexico.

"We are seeing now a trend which more or less started in the last seven to eight years," Omar Vidal, the head of the World Wildlife Fund's Mexico operations, said in an interview with The New York Times. Although insect populations can fluctuate greatly even in normal conditions, the steady downward drift in the butterfly's numbers is worrisome, he said.

The Associated Press quotes experts as saying that the decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and are no longer seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events.

Why is it happening?

Vidal points north, to the monarchs' summer home in the U.S. Midwest. The farmland there once provided plenty of milkweed sprouting between rows of corn and soybean. But the heavy use of genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant, crops have allowed farmers to wipe out milkweed and eliminate the monarchs' main food source.

In an interview with the Times, Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, said the Midwest milkweed habitat "is virtually gone. We've lost well over 120 million acres, and probably closer to 150 million acres."

Taylor says the record-breaking heat in North America last summer was also a factor.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Diversity In Space: Tracking The First Asian Pilot In The Star Wars Movies

The Asian characters in the original Star Wars films are few, fleeting and often forgotten. But the Manager of the Holocron at Lucasfilm helps uncover their back stories.
NPR

Not Just A Man's Drink: Ladies Lead The Whiskey Renaissance

Whiskey was long considered a man's drink. But as sales of whiskey soar, it's women who are leading the new boom, thanks to a vanguard of female distillers, blenders and tasters.
NPR

Republicans Sort Their Priorities For The New Congress

The GOP will take over both chambers of Congress on January 6th, with issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, Obamacare and immigration reform likely to take priority.
NPR

Die-In, Vortex, Selfie Stick: What's The Word Of 2014?

In January, members of the American Dialect Society will vote on the 2014 Word of the Year. Linguist Ben Zimmer runs through some contenders — including words both old and new.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.