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Monarch butterfly populations are in decline -- but there is a simple way you can help them

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, August 12, 2014, 6:45 PM - If you aren't acquainted with the monarch butterfly, you're missing out. Experts could go on and on about the amazing qualities these remarkable creatures possess.

Each year monarchs -- arguably the most recognizable of all North American butterfly species due to distinct orange, black and white markings -- make their way to Mexico, traveling up to 160 kilometres per day.

As they migrate the butterflies help pollinate approximately one-third of the fruits and vegetables that humans consume.

The 5,000 kilometre journey, the longest butterfly migration on the planet, can take upwards of two months. It begins in the United States, continues through Canada, and ends in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Mexico.


RELATED: The importance of pollinators


But monarchs are in trouble: A report released by the World Wildlife Fund in January says the numbers counted during the last migration were the lowest since the count began in 1993.

In the past, as many as 300 million monarch would be seen wintering in Mexico.

By 2014, that number had dropped below 60 million.

"It take three or four successive generations of monarchs to make it into Ontario and then into the U.S.," says Jode Roberts, a communications specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation. "Since they weigh less than a paperclip ... they really depend on a stable environment."

Climate change, severe weather events, illegal logging and widespread pesticide use have expedited the monarch's decline, but the widespread loss of milkweed plants is arguably one of the largest contributors.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Milkweed plays a crucial role in the monarch life cycle and in some parts of Canada and the U.S., more than 90% has vanished due to agricultural practices.

"Milkweed is an essential plant for the monarch butterfly because it's the only plant that female will lay eggs on and it's the only food that monarch caterpillars will eat. So they're wholly dependent on this one specific plant," Roberts says.

Helping the monarch can be as simple as planting one of the many species of native milkweed somewhere on your property.

You can take that a step further by setting up a monarch waystation and registering it online with monarchwatch.com.

Waystation kits can be purchased through the organization for $16, and they include everything needed to help monarchs along their journey.

NEXT PAGE: CREATING A MONARCH WAYSTATION


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