Earth Matters Around the Web : It’s Cold Out There, Even for Butterflies

Wherever you are on the globe, chances you have contended with some extreme weather this year – for example the extreme cold that has shut down several American cities. While some of the shutdowns may be dramatic overreactions, it is certainly colder than usual and that inconveniences many of us in all sorts of ways. In the big scheme of things, however, the inconveniences are pretty small and there are probably very few people who, at least at this stage, give the weather that much attention.

 

Yet, while human beings may find he weather to be, overall, benign, there are far more susceptible creatures on the planet. Take for example this article on the monarch butterfly that was recently posted by the New York TImes. Now, I cannot claim to be an expert on butterflies, but I was surprised to read that monarchs are, in fact, migratory, traveling from Canada and the US to a relatively small stretch of mountainous forest each year. Not only do the butterflies need to reach these mountains, they need to do so at a very particular time of year, or else their populations inevitably crash, and that time consists of a mere 40 day stretch. Last year, the article relays, “unusual springtime cold in Texas delayed the butterflies’ northward migration, causing them to arrive late in areas where they would normally have bred weeks earlier”. In 2012,”months of near-record heat sapped [the butterflies’] endurance and skewed their migratory patterns in ways that limited their ability to reproduce. Still, there is another problem.

 

As we are informed, the obstacles to the monarch’s migration would be less of an issue if their population was larger. However, due to the loss of habitat in both Mexico and the US, their population has been steadily declining and the survival of the species is now dependent on a much smaller, and therefore more vulnerable, number of individuals. Of course, this brings us full circle as the loss of habitat, that being plants and trees, is a major contributor to the climate problem. So, here we have yet another example of the interconnectedness of the earths ecosystems, which begs the question of what impact the loss of the butterflies might have, other than the loss of one of nature’s greatest spectacles.

Image

                     Monarch butterflies in a butterfly sanctuary near Angangueo, Mexico, in 2005 
                      Kirsten Luce/Associated Press (taken from the New York Times)
 
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