Beyond the golden beauty of their miniature stained-glass wings, Monarch butterflies are an essential part of our ecosystem. These pretty little long-distance travelers play a huge role when it comes to pollinating our food supply and keeping our ecosystem in balance.
Not only are butterflies seen as an indicator of ecological health, areas rich with butterflies also have a high concentration of invertebrates, which provide other environmental benefits such as natural pest control. Unlike the bees, which do a stellar job covering short distances, butterflies can pollinate wide swaths of areas along their migration path.
We could go on and on about the benefits of a world full of butterflies but alas: they are disappearing at an alarming rate. This is mostly due to the destruction of their native habitat such as milkweed plants and the overuse of pesticides. The loss of these lovely flying insects would have terrible consequences.
According to an article in National Geographic,
In 2004, an estimated 550 million completed the winter migration, while in 2013 only 33 million arrived. Further, between 2012 and 2013, there was a 43.7 percent decrease in the area occupied by the butterflies in their winter sanctuaries.”
While these numbers paint a bleak picture when it comes to the survival of such an important group of pollinators, there may be a bit of hope on the horizon. The government is finally taking notice of this environmental disaster with the unveiling of Obama’s plan to increase the population of pollinators by restoring the habitats of both bees and butterflies.
In particular there has been a major pull towards trying to protect the Monarch butterflies, which migrate nearly 3,000 miles from North America to their wintering spot in Mexico. Obama’s plan includes creating a butterfly oasis of sorts along Interstate 35—a federal highway that extends from the Texas-Mexico border all the way up to Minnesota.
A recent article in Quartz explains that by rejuvenating this key pathway in the monarch’s migration the government hopes to,
…coordinate efforts to rehabilitate prairie vegetation, educate “target audiences,” and provide spring and summer breeding habitats along the flyway. The Fish and Wildlife Service has allocated $3.2 million specifically for Monarch conservation and will prioritize projects near the corridor.”
Although land along an interstate may not seem like a very likely oasis for monarchs, it is, in fact, an ideal for pollinator habitat with sunny areas and low vegetation height. Let the milkweed planting begin!
Monarch Butterfly's Reign Threatened by Milkweed Decline via National Geographic
NATIONAL STRATEGY TO PROMOTE THE HEALTH OF HONEY BEES AND OTHER POLLINATORS via The White House
Why Butterflies Matter via Butterfly Conservation