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Monarch butterfly migration slows to a trickle

Image: Lillian Kennedy

Image: Lillian Kennedy

Digital writers

Friday, January 31, 2014, 1:39 PM -

The monarch butterfly is probably the best-known buffalo species in North America - but a huge chunk of North America might not see very much of them over the next few decades.

Their famous migration to Mexico during the winter may come to a complete halt, and it's already down to a shadow of its former self.

A new report released on Wednesday says the numbers counted in Mexico during the last migration were the lowest they've been since the count started in 1993.

The report's authors, the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico's Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission, blame a combination of factors, including climate change, the displacement of the milkweed that is the species' preferred food source due to pesticides, and illegal logging in Mexico that is destroying the habitat they prefer to shelter in.

The decline is drastic: At last count, they covered less than one hectare of land, down from a peak of 18 hectares in 1996.

If that doesn't sound like much, it's because researchers count the number of trees containing monarchs, with each tree actually housing countless thousands of the insects.

Extreme weather in the United States, Canada and Mexico, including droughts or heavy rains, has also played a part, but it seems the monarchs are not actually in danger of extinction, due to high numbers and global distribution, along with other migration routes.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: Writer Cheryl Santa Maria takes a weekly look at endangered species around the world. Antarctica's Gentoo Penguin was featured last week.

Some areas, particularly along the U.S. Gulf Coast, have actually seen a resurgence of residents planting milkweed to entice the butterflies back.

If the numbers fall any lower, the migration could end altogether, with monarchs seeking other parts of North America for overwintering.

Conservation group Nature Canada actually has a page on how to make your garden friendly to migrating monarchs.

In Canada, they're found anywhere between Newfoundland and Vancouver Island, and are sometimes found surprisingly far north (there's been at least one sighting in the Northwest Territories).

With files from the Associated Press.

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