What makes the monarch unique?
The monarch butterfly has one of, if not the, most complex migrations of any insect. Monarchs travel thousands of miles every year across North America and have become a symbol for countless communities. From being the state insect of six U.S. states, the symbol of the state of Michoacán and classroom favorite of elementary schools across the U.S., Mexico and Canada, the monarch is one famous insect.
Starting as the size of a needle point, the Monarch egg is laid on milkweed. Once hatched, the monarch caterpillar grows, eating through the leaves of milkweed plants, its only source of food at this stage. Once mature enough, the caterpillars will begin their chrysalis, starting as green and turning black with a gold strand. Once ready, the monarch will start to shake itself out as newly emerged monarch butterfly.
The monarchs we see in Mexico each Fall and Winter traveled thousands of miles from Southern Canada and the Northern United States. Having never made this migration, monarchs are evolutionarily programmed to travel back to the same exact forest every year. As March approaches, this “Super Generation” picks up activity and begins the mating process. And, soon after begin their journey north to the Mexico/Texas border where it will lay its eggs and die. Those eggs then become a new generation and it will take another two-four generations to reach Canada and the northern U.S. states each summer.
At one time, the monarch overwintering habitat in Mexico encompassed over 50 acres with a population of over one billion. Due to habitat loss and other factors threatening the monarch population, the overwintering colonies have dwindled to as little as 5 acres during some recent years.
In July 2022, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) made a significant decision to list the iconic Monarch butterfly as an endangered species. This move underscores the critical state of this beloved insect and the urgent need for conservation efforts.
Today, the relict natural forests that the monarchs depend on constantly face pressure ranging from storms to clearcutting. In order to maintain the current population size, what is left of the natural forests must stay protected.
That is why Forests for Monarchs is working with communities and landowners to convert their cleared and degraded land back to forested land. Reforesting in and around the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve area is crucial for the long-term survival of the monarch butterfly.