The Disappearance of the Monarch Butterfly


When Star Livingstone’s Mother purchased her Adirondack Homestead in 1963, she added some lime to the acidic soil. Soon after this, some Milkweeds began to grow on the two acre plot attracting Monarch butterflies. She allowed these Milkweeds to flourish in a little patch creating a small sanctuary. When she built a house she dubbed it “The Butterfly Barn.” Every year since then for nearly 50 years, monarch butterflies have been flying here to reproduce and lay eggs and die. Their offspring would then make the return trip in the fall, flying over 2000 miles to winter in Central Mexico, in what is now known as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

Last summer at least 50 to 100 monarch caterpillars were seen eating the milkweed and spinning cocoons. Some Milkweed plants “volunteered” in the middle of the vegetable garden, where they were allowed to grow. At least one monarch caterpillar, reached maturity and successfully metamorphosed into a butterfly in the middle of a cabbage bed. Star home schooled her granddaughter that year and incorporated the life cycle of the monarch butterfly into her science curriculum, and a neighbor who home schooled her children also took part.

But this summer not a single Monarch butterfly was to be found. The robins returned. Songbirds such as hermit thrushes and winter wrens came and made their nests. Woodcocks, grouse and turkeys raised litters of babies in the nearby woods, but not a single monarch was to be seen.

As it tuned out the problem extended beyond Star’s homestead. There may not have been a single monarch butterfly in the entire 6 million acre Adirondack Park this year.

Not a single Monarch butterfly was spotted in the Lake Placid butterfly count conducted by citizen scientists Saturday, July 13. This marks only the second time in the 20-year history of the count that no Monarch was sighted by the volunteers.

These Adirondack Monarchs are a very special generation of Monarch Butterfly:

“Monarchs in the Adirondacks are members of a so-called “super generation” which lives nine months, much longer than earlier generations and long enough to travel more than 2,000 miles to winter in Mexico, then fly another 750 miles back to the Southern U.S. in the spring to renew the migratory cycle. Some Monarchs may travel up to 5,000 miles as they weave their way. The Adirondacks are on a flight path for Monarchs traveling southwest in the fall”

So who or what is to blame for this disappearance? The census at the Mexican wintering grounds was at an all time low this year and cold fronts in the Southeast blocked the monarchs from migrating North this Spring. But ultimately, massive spraying of the herbicide glyphosate on Monsanto’s “Round up ready” corn and soybean crops is to blame. Historically Milkweeds have grown along rows of corn and on the edges of Farms over hundreds of thousands of acres of Farmland in the Midwest. But since 1997 this habitat has been shrinking every year at the alarming rate of ” 6,000 acres a day in the United States” according to insect ecologist Chip Taylor

Through a series of legal checkmates, Monsanto has been cornering the Soybean and Corn markets, strong arming independent farmers into buying Round Up ready seeds. These crops are then sprayed with massive amounts of herbicide killing every plant in the surrounding area, that has not been genetically modified, destroying not only milkweed but dozens of other species of wild flowers and nectar producing plants, pollinators such as bees and butterflies rely on.

A recent University of Minnesota study has shown that:

 We estimate that there has been a 58% decline in milkweeds on the Midwest landscape and an 81% decline in monarch production in the Midwest from 1999 to 2010. Monarch production in the Midwest each year was positively correlated with the size of the subsequent overwintering population in Mexico. Taken together, these results strongly suggest that a loss of agricultural milkweeds is a major contributor to the decline in the monarch population.”

What Can be Done?

The Monarch Way Station Program, created by the conservation organization Monarch Watch, is an excellent start for solution in saving the monarchs. However, Star’s small backyard sanctuary did nothing for the monarchs killed in the Midwest, before they could make it here. The Super generation Monarchs, fly all the way to Mexico in one generation, but it takes them up to three or four generations to make it back as they must breed and produce young in the Midwestern states along the way. Backyard milkweed patches can help, but they alone cannot not restore the hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat destroyed by herbicide spraying over the last decade.

Only a multifaceted approach can bring them back. This multifaceted approach can also resolve many of the other social and environmental ills created by Monsanto’s seed monopoly and poisonous spraying of deadly herbicides.

1. Push for Labeling of GMO seeds on the State level
When GMO’s were required to be labeled in European countries, consumers refused to buy GMO foods. Farmer’s then sopped growing them. Survey’s indicate the same would happen in the US. For the time being corrupt Lawmakers on the Federal Level have been successfully bought off, but the fight is not over on the State level.

2. Get Monarch Butterflies on the endangered species List
A puzzling myriad of steps is required to get a species on the endangered listIts ridiculous that they are not already on this list after experiencing such a massive population decline of over 50% in one year and an 80% decline over the last ten years. Currently they are listed as “near threatened” despite that fact that they were completely absent this year in much of their historical range. Zero is not near threatened. Zero is extinct. Things are extremely critical. Being on this list would require their critical habitat to be protected. Many more new GMO crops are in the Monsanto Pipeline, which would lead to even more spraying. Getting Monarch’s on the endangered species list should halt more habitat destruction.

3.Boycott GMO foods. Patronize organic produce at Farmer’s Markets, or better yet grow your own fresh vegetables and corn on your own backyard garden.

4. Boycott ethanol.
According to Chip Taylor:

: Ethanol is a big issue too. We’ve seen a 25.5 million-acre increase in the amount of corn and soybeans since 2006. And that’s been at the expense of nearly ten million acres of Conservation Reserve Program land, which farmers are paid to set aside for wildlife. The other 15.5 million acres means that farmers had to plant a lot of marginal land — that would be milkweed habitat, pollinator habitat, rangeland, grassland and so on. So there has been a tremendous change in agriculture to accommodate the production of biofuel. The price of corn and the price of soybeans has gone way up. There is also an increase in international markets

Ethanol is a scam. Using current industrial farming methods which require heavy use of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, its takes1.3 gallons of petroleum to produce one gallon of ethanol For a list of ethanol free gas stations in the US and Canada click here,/a>

5. Talk to people you know about this problem.
Monarch butterflies are a very charismatic species. They have the power to transcend political differences.

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  • kowalityjesus

    I was worried about monarchs until last year when I saw a plethora of them, with several caterpillars on the milkweed stand to the side of my mom’s house in Detroit. This year not so many; such an erratic incidence probably augurs a future even worse.

    Are the monarchs the passenger pigeon of the 21st century?

    • atlanticus

      Are you sure they were Monarchs and not Viceroys? (That isn’t a shitty pun, it’s the name of a look-alike butterfly)…

      • kowalityjesus

        I am nearly sure that it was a monarch.

        • atlanticus

          At least there’s hope that if the populations are wiped out in North/Central America, the Oceanic populations (in Australia called the “wanderer butterfly”) will still survive…I’m not sure what their diet or lifestyle is there, or whether or not there are similar threats to their environment…

          There is also a somewhat-closely related cousin (they separated 2 million years ago, so depends on your definition of “close”) called the “Southern Monarch” throughout South America, which look very similar as adults, though they look different as pupae.

    • Ted Heistman

      I hope not!

  • Ted Heistman

    here is a good article on what foods probably contain GMO’s

    http://vanessaruns.com/2011/02/08/gmos-and-why-you-should-never-use-canola-oil/