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Strange cloud over Missouri is actually a swarm of butterflies


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, September 23, 2014, 7:37 PM - It turns out a strange 'cloud' formation picked recently picked up by National Weather Service (NWS) radar in the U.S. over St. Louis, Missouri wasn't a cloud at all but rather, a swarm of butterflies.

Last week, weather observers picked up a strange formation on NWS radar. It was a cloud moving towards Mexico and changing into all sorts of weird shapes in the process.

Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that the object wasn't a cloud at all.

"Keen observers of our radar data probably noticed some fairly high returns moving south over southern Illinois and central Missouri.," The National Weather Service in the U.S. wrote on its Facebook page on Friday.


RELATED: The importance of pollinators


"High differential reflectivity values as well as low correlation coefficient values indicate these are most likely biological targets. High differential reflectivity indicates these are oblate targets, and low correlation coefficient means the targets are changing shape. We think these targets are Monarch butterflies. A monarch in flight would look oblate to the radar, and flapping wings would account for the changing shape! NWS St. Louis wishes good luck and a safe journey to these amazing little creatures on their long journey south!"

'Cloud' image on NWS radar (courtesy: NWS/Facebook)

'Cloud' image on NWS radar (courtesy: NWS/Facebook)

The large swarm is a positive sign for monarch butterflies, which are in the process of making their way to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

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.

Sadly, the species is 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.

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.


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