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The monarch butterfly population is on a "drastic decline" and researchers are looking for help.

Monarch butterflies on the decline. Here's how you can help


Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Friday, September 25, 2015, 11:43 AM - The monarch butterfly population is on a "drastic decline" and researchers are looking for help.

Due to their distinct orange, black and white markings, monarchs are one of the most recognizable butterflies in all of North America.

As they migrate to Mexico, traveling up to 160 km per day, they work to help pollinate approximately one-third of the fruits and vegetables humans consume. In addition, they assist researchers track changes in weather, climate and ecosystem. However, this species is at risk, explained Jenna Quinn, a program scientist with the Rare Charitable Nature Reserve in Cambridge, Ont. told CBC.

"These monarchs used to cover nearly 30 acres of forest in Mexico and now they're covering maybe 2 acres, so it's a really drastic decline."


RELATED:  U.S. government pledges $3.2 million to save monarch butterflies


The migration can take up to 2 months and is the longest butterfly migration on Earth. It begins in the United States, continues through Canada and ends in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Mexico.

While in the past, as many as 300 million monarchs would be seen wintering in Mexico, by 2014, that number dropped below 60 million, according to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund.

Climate change, severe weather events such as drought and widespread pesticide use have contributed to the decline.

For example, drought kills milkweed, a vital plant in the monarch life cycle and other pollinator plants. Cold snaps can keep caterpillars in the chrysalis stage longer, leaving them more vulnerable to predators.

Monarch Watch is a group founded in 1992 that uses the data collected from tagged butterflies. If you spot a monarch that is tagged, it is worth letting the organization know, Quinn told CBC.

As seen below, Nicole Watson captured a photo of a tagged monarch in Ontario early September.


Nicole Watson - Ontario - September 8, 2015

"If I tag a butterfly here in Cambridge, and the next day someone finds it somewhere in Waterloo, that's still valuable information."

Data collected helps researchers determine how far a monarch travels in a day, their migration pathways and whether they are off track, CBC reports.

"It's actually quite simple, the tag is really just a sticker that attaches to the winds," Quinn told CBC.

Below is a video that shows how a tag is applied. The sticker accounts for approximately 2 per cent of the insect's body. 

CREATING MONARCH WAYSTATION

Due to agricultural practices, more than 90 per cent of milkweed has vanished.

"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," Jode Roberts, a communications specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation told The Weather Network.

You can help out the butterflies by planting one of the many species of native milkweed in your garden.

You can also set up a monarch waystation and register it online with monarchwatch.com.

The types of plants used in a waystation vary based on geography, but Monarch Watch recommends the following:


For gardens east of the Rocky Mountains:


MILKWEED

  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

GENERAL NECTAR PLANTS

  • Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
  • Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)
  • Tithonia Torch, Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
  • Zinnia, Dahlia Mix (Zinnia elegans)

For gardens west of the Rocky Mountains


MILKWEED

  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)
  • Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

GENERAL NECTAR PLANTS

  • Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea)
  • Chia (Salvia columbariae)
  • Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)
  • Tithonia Torch, Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
  • Zinnia, Dahlia Mix (Zinnia elegans)

-- With files from Cheryl Santa Maria

Source:

CBC

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