Helping monarch butterflies with their summer road trip
There are a multitude of animals that help pollinate flowering plants, including bees, flies, some wasps, and even birds. Unfortunately, many of these species’ populations are in decline, often thanks to loss of habitat or exposure to pesticides and pollutants. Since losing our pollinators outright would be completely devastating to the majority of terrestrial life, including humans, some efforts have been launched to try to help these creatures bounce back.
Maintinaing monarch migrations
Monarch butterflies are one of the first beneficiaries of new programs by the US federal government to protect pollinators. The well-known insects make a yearly migration from Mexico to Canada, making stops all along their 1,500 mile journey. When they stop, they get nectar from flowers, collecting pollen on their bodies that can then be shared at future snack sites. This fertilizes the flowering plants, allowing them to reproduce, which then produces food and more for just about everyone else. This migration also helps shape these early conservation efforts, as it gives us a clear path to start with.
That path is none other than the I-35 corridor, stretching from Texas to Minnesota. Since the highway is already maintained by the government, fewer parties need to be coordinated to make these monarch-friendly changes. Those changes begin with seeding the adjacent land with key plants the monarchs depend on, namely milkweed (which makes the caterpillars and butterflies poisonous to would be predators.) A more difficult issue will be getting the neighboring farmers to change their pesticide use so that they’re not accidentally killing the pollinators along the way.
The long road ahead
While this program has some critics, who worry about other species being lost in the monarch’s shadow and too much leniency for pesticide use, there is reason for some optimism. Other animals that have had migration corridors protected are more easily disrupted by any unfortunate fence or crossing, but butterflies should have a slightly easier time taking advantage of this new pollinator-friendly highway. Hopefully its successful enough that it can become a model or at least reference point for developing further pollinator protections.
Source: Migrating Monarch Butterflies Might Actually Take to the Highway by Heather Hansman, Smithsonian Magazine