Monday, November 24, 2014

Strange Goings On With Monarchs

Things are getting a little weird with this year's monarch butterfly migration. The Journey North website (they cover the journey south as well) is the only source of news I've found thus far, and their latest post is a puzzler. The reporter down in Michoacan, Mexico had found a small batch of butterflies clustered on a couple trees on the traditional days of arrival during the Day of the Dead, Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. Millions more were forecast, but as of Nov. 11, they hadn't arrived. Here's part of the report:
"He told me that in El Rosario no colony or even a cluster has been formed yet, and only an average quantity has been observed overflying the area. 
He confirmed the impressions that the way the Monarchs are arriving is very unusual and, being optimistic, it may be that they are flying too high up. 
Last, he told me that they have news that the massive colonies are possibly coming from the state of Tamaulipas."
No updates since then. I want to say, "Come in, Michoacan. Do you read me? Over."

Tamaulipas, according to google maps, is nine hours northeast of the traditional wintering grounds for the monarch. My concern has been that the migration behavior is somehow dependent on massive numbers, and that the migration could begin to break down if the population drops too far.

The Corn Snafu Deepens
Another twist on the decimation of monarch habitat due to Roundup Ready corn:

Most farmers have switched to Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, due to higher yields. Marginal lands and roadsides previously allowed to grow habitat conducive for monarchs have been returned to cultivation. But NPR reports that the massive corn harvest this year could actually make farmers more dependent on government subsidies. A corn glut outstrips demand, lowers prices, farmers don't get a return on their heavy investment in seed, fertilizer and pesticides, and government price supports kick in. Meanwhile, trains are increasingly being used to transport oil, causing the risk of spoilage to increase as it becomes harder to get the corn and soybeans to market.

In other words, a situation unhealthy for monarchs is proving problematic for farmers as well. For anyone curious about how or whether the government should intervene, this article makes for an interesting read.

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