Monarch butterfly may be listed as endangered species after 90% population drop

Endangered Monarch butterfly in May resting on clover flowers (Wikimedia Commons)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The US government may add the Monarch butterfly to the Endangered Species list following a catastrophic loss of its population over last decades due to habitat decrease from cultivation of genetically engineered crops and climate change.

US Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Monday it would conduct a one-year status review of the Monarch butterfly to determine if they are warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The agency is requesting scientific and commercial data through a 60-day public information period and they’re looking for data on the insects’ biology, range and population trends, habitat requirements, genetics and taxonomy, distribution patterns, population levels, life history, thermos-tolerance, and conservation methods.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the population has declined from a recorded high of approximately one billion Monarch butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded.

The agency review comes in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to list the subspecies of monarch (Danaus plexippus plexippus), who argue might be necessary.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the decline is driven in part to the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most Monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food.

In addition to herbicide use they say Monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the Monarch’s entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to these threats.

Quite apart from their obvious beauty and appeal for Lepidopterists, the Monarch butterfly or the Danaus plexippus plexippus play an important role in ecology. They pollinate or specifically they carry pollen from plant to plant helping fruit, vegetables and flowers to produce new seeds. In the food chain in their caterpillar stage they are a food source for birds, mammals and other insects.

Monarch butterflies are found throughout the United States and many fly between the US, Mexico and Canada – a journey of 3,000 miles. The journey, according to studies, has become more perilous for the butterflies because of threats along their migratory paths, their breeding grounds and wintering grounds.

“We are extremely pleased that the federal agency in charge of protecting our nation’s wildlife has recognized the dire situation of the Monarch,” said Sarina Jepsen, the Xerces Society’s endangered species director. “Protection as a threatened species will enable extensive monarch habitat recovery on both public and private lands.”

Source: “Monarch butterfly may be listed as endangered species after 90% population drop“, RT.com, 31 December 2014

Massive mayfly emergence in Wisconsin is visible on weather radar

Animation of radar readings showing the huge cloud of mayflies emerging“The Mississippi River produced a massive radar echo as mayflies emerged from the water and became airborne. The mayflies were detectable on radar around 8:45 pm […] The radar loop below shows the reflected radar energy (reflectivity) from 8:35 pm to just after midnight. The higher the values (greens to yellows) indicate greater concentrations of flies.” (Source: NOAA)

Mayflies spend the majority of their life underwater, quietly eating algae and plant material. The full growth cycle of a mayfly can take up to 4 years; we just notice them when they pile up in post-coital exhaustion.

Mayflies emerge synchronously around dusk to avoid their main above-water predators: birds and bats. Predators trying to capitalize on a sudden mayfly all-you-can-eat buffet are overwhelmed by the emergence of millions of insects. Some individuals make it through, and the species continues.

Mayfly larvae are delightfully called “naiads,” and provide critical food for fish. The bodies of immature mayflies have beautiful external gills; this is also why they are important in assessing water quality. Mucky, polluted water is not a place a mayfly larva can breathe. Detroit has had mass mayfly emergences in the past, but a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie this year is damaging populations of all the animals in the watershed. […]

“Mayflies are some of the most ancient insects around; they are well represented in Carboniferous fossils dating [more than] 300 million years ago. Fossil mayflies look remarkably like our modern mayflies; some consider them “living fossils.” The oldest fossil of a winged insect is a mayfly. (Source: Wired)

Gas pump covered in mayflies in the the Minnesota City and Trempealeau Area (Wisconsin, 2014)

(click thumbnails below to enlarge)