Monarch Migration

A large number of Monarch butterflies have been seen in their migratory funnel in Cape May. N.J. instead of across the Texas-Mexico border. This delayed migration is not normal, and it alarmed monarch researchers across the country. The Cape May stragglers were only a sliver of the record number of monarchs reported in the Northeast in November and December — news that sounded good initially to conservationists. But seeing butterflies so far north so late in the year suggested that few of these latecomers would reach their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists fear that climate change is behind what they’re calling the latest monarch migration ev er recorded in the eastern United States, and they worry that rising temperatures pose a new threat to a species that saw its population hit record lows in recent years.

Known for their complex, improbable migrations, most monarchs embark on 2,000-mile journeys each fall, from breeding grounds as far north as Canada’s maritime provinces to the Sierra Madre mountains in central Mexico. (A separate western population heads mostly to Southern California.) They mate in Mexico, then fly back north to lay their eggs (and die) in the spring.

Because they’re so delicate — each weighs less than a gram — monarchs are particular about the conditions they’ll fly in, and especially vulnerable to extreme weather systems. Major storms, high winds, early freezes — all pose large-scale dangers, and the butterflies faced all of those this year. But more pernicious than that, scientists believe, are the warmer temperatures, probably a sign of climate change, which manipulated the monarchs’ instincts and pushed their migration back.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of monarchs has dropped from a billion in their heyday to about 33 million in 2014 — or more than 80 percent since the mid-1990s.

For decades, scientists have focused on two main causes to explain what was happening to the monarchs: loss of their habitat to development in the United States and in the Mexican winter grounds and widespread agricultural use of pesticides, which destroy milkweed, their favorite plant. But now they are looking at climate change as a new threat to this icon of conservation.

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Bonus Monarchs

Tens of thousands of migrating monarch butterflies are stuck in northern climes this autumn because of unusually warm weather and strong winds that have grounded them.

Biologist Elizabeth Howard, director of the monarch tracking group Journey North, says the colorful insects have been seen from far southern Ontario to near Cape May, New Jersey. Monarchs typically arrive in their central Mexican winter home about Nov. 1.

Howard points out that many of the stragglers are a sort of “bonus generation” that was able to emerge late in the season because of the delayed chill.

Salmon Crisis

Not a single wild salmon returned to a key breeding river in New Brunswick, Canada, to spawn for the first time on record.

“It means for the Magaguadavic River, whatever wild salmon that existed there are now extinct,” said Neville Crabbe, spokesman for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The federation says the decline in the once-abundant wild salmon from Atlantic Canada to Maine is partly due to an increase in salmon farming in the region.

Other factors include the construction of dams, loss of habitat, pollution, climate change and overfishi


Stinging Invasion

Beaches on England’s picturesque Cornwall coast were forced to close as an unprecedented number of Portuguese men o’war washed ashore.

The floating colonies of tiny organisms working together have tentacles that reach up to 165 feet in length and can deliver an extremely painful sting.

The Cornwall Wildlife Trust says the foreign invaders were blown in by strong southwesterly winds. The warm-water creatures typically live far out to sea.

Monarchs in Peril

While declining monarch butterfly populations from Mexico to eastern Canada have received the most attention in recent years, scientists at Washington State University Vancouver say western populations are now at greater risk of extinction.

“In the 1980s, 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California. Today there are barely 300,000,” said biologist Cheryl Schultz.

The exact causes of the decline are unknown, but Schultz fears habitat destruction and pesticide use across the West, where the monarchs breed, are the likely culprits.


Polar Bears – Good News

Polar bear populations are growing despite global warming, according to new research.

The new population estimates from the 2016 Scientific Working Group are somewhere between 22,633 to 32,257 bears, which is a net increase from the 2015 number of 22,000 to 31,000. The current population numbers are a sharp increase from 2005’s, which stated only 20,000 to 25,000 bears remained — those numbers were a major increase from estimates that only 8,000 to 10,000 bears remained in the late 1960s.

Until the new study, bear subpopulations in the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin (KB) were thought to be in decline due to over-hunting and global warming. The new report indicates this is not the case.

Scientists are increasingly realizing that polar bears are much more resilient to changing levels of sea ice than environmentalists previously believed, and numerous healthy populations are thriving.

Winged Extinction

The buzzing wings of crickets and grasshoppers could fall silent across the European landscape if action isn’t taken to protect the insects’ habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The grassland inhabitants are an important food source for birds and reptiles, but more than a quarter of their species have been driven to extinction in recent decades. The disappearance has mainly been due to loss of habitat to wildfires, intensive agriculture and tourism development, according to the conservation group.

Monarch Losses

The number of monarch butterflies has dropped by 27 percent during recent months at the insects’ winter home in western Mexico. The plunge followed last year’s apparent recovery from the historically low numbers two years ago. Experts at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán state say some of the decline could be due to storms late last winter that felled more than 100 acres of forests where the colourful butterflies winter. The monarchs also suffered a high level of mortality due to the same cold, wet and windy storms.


Monarch Refuge Losses

Storms earlier this year toppled more than a hundred acres of forest in central Mexico, where migrating monarch butterflies spend each winter. Late reports say the severe weather was accompanied by rain, cold and high winds, which killed more than 7 percent of the wintering butterflies. “Never had we observed such a combination of high winds, rain and freezing temperatures,” monarch expert Lincoln Brower said of the storms, which hit Michoacán’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on March 8 and 9.


Hollywood has envisioned the implausible phenomenon of spinning columns of bloodthirsty sharks in recent years, but tornadoes of bloodsucking mosquitoes were actually observed and photographed near Russia’s central Ural Mountains. The photographer who shot a video of several “mosquito tornadoes” in Yekaterinburg on Aug. 13 said each column contained millions of the insects. A single mosquito tornado was photographed in Portugal during the spring of 2014.



Monarch Butterflies Rebound

Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico, after suffering serious declines, experts said Friday.

The area covered by the orange-and-black insects in the mountains west of Mexico City this season was more than three and a half times greater than last winter. The butterflies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by individual insects.

The number of monarchs making the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometre) migration from the United States and Canada declined steadily in recent years before recovering in 2014. This winter was even better.

This December, the butterflies covered 10 acres (about 4 hectares), compared to 2.8 acres (1.13 hectares) in 2014 and a record low of 1.66 acres (0.67 hectares) in 2013.

While that’s positive, the monarchs still face problems: The butterflies covered as much as 44 acres (18 hectares) 20 years ago.

The United States is working to reintroduce milkweed, a plant key to the butterflies’ migration, on about 1,160 square miles (3 million hectares) within five years, both by planting and by designating pesticide-free areas. Milkweed is the plant the butterflies feed and lay their eggs on, but it has been attacked by herbicide use and loss of open land in the United States.

In Mexico, meanwhile, illegal logging has remained a problem. It more than tripled in the monarch butterflies’ wintering grounds in 2014, reversing several years of steady improvements. Illegal logging had fallen to almost zero in 2012.

Authorities said the reserve’s buffer area lost more than 22 acres (9 hectares) in 2015 due to illegal logging in one area, but said the tree cutting was detected and several arrests were made.

The forest canopy acts as a blanket against the cold for butterflies forming huge clumps on branches during their winter stay in Mexico.

Bees are vanishing: U.N. report

Many species of wild bees, butterflies and other insects that pollinate plants are shrinking toward extinction, and the world needs to do something about it before our food supply suffers, a new United Nations scientific mega-report warns.

The 20,000 or so species of pollinators are key to growing fruits, vegetables and cash crops. Yet two out of five species of invertebrate pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are on the path toward extinction, said the first-of-its-kind report. Pollinators with backbones, such as hummingbirds and bats, are only slightly better off, with 1 in 6 species facing extinction.

“We are in a period of decline and there are going to be increasing consequences,” said report lead author Simon Potts, director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at the University of Reading in England.

The trouble is the report can’t point to a single villain. Among the culprits — the way farming has changed so there’s not enough diversity and wild flowers for pollinators to use as food; pesticide use, habitat loss to cities; disease, parasites and pathogens; and global warming.

The report is the result of more than two years of work by scientists across the globe who got together under several different U.N. agencies to come up with an assessment of Earth’s biodiversity, starting with the pollinators.

“The variety and multiplicity of threats to pollinators and pollination generate risks to people and livelihoods,” the report stated.

“These risks are largely driven by changes in land cover and agricultural management systems, including pesticide use.”


Monarchs May Be Coming Back From the Brink

North America’s iconic monarch butterflies could quadruple in numbers this year, thanks to joint conservation efforts by Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Populations of the orange-and-black insects plunged almost 90 percent two years ago, reaching only 35 million compared with a peak of about 1 billion during the 1990s.

The destruction of milkweed by agriculture was the main cause of the decline.

The migrating monarchs are currently wintering on only a few acres of pine-and-fir forest of Mexico’s Michoacán state.

They will remain there until beginning a spring migration that will take them across the eastern half of the United States and into Canada by next summer.

Officials count the wintering monarchs by the area that they cover, not their individual numbers.

The insect occupied only 2.8 acres of forest last winter, better than during 2013-2014 when the population hit an all-time low of 1.66 acres.

Conservationists say the goal is to reach almost 15 acres by 2020. This compares to a high of nearly 47 acres in 1996-1997.


Monarch Butterflies Considered for Endangered Species Status

The monarch butterfly, once common across the United States, could soon end up on the Endangered Species List.

Over the next year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether the iconic black-and-orange butterflies deserve the federal protections that come with being listed an endangered or threatened species.

By some estimates, the monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent over the past two decades, from about 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to just 35 million individuals last winter.

That loss is “so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Centre for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Scientists say the butterfly’s decline is linked to a rise in genetically engineered crops in the Midwest. Many of these crops are altered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which kills milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only source of food.

The herbicide is so successful that milkweed plants have virtually disappeared in Midwestern corn and soybean fields, and monarch butterflies have effectively lost a Texas-size chunk of their habitat.



Decimated Monarch Butterfly Population May be Rebounding

Initial signs from the monarch butterfly’s first stop on the fall migration southward to Mexico indicate the insect’s population could be about to rebound after a devastating two years.

The CBC reports that staff at Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park say they have found more caterpillars this year, as well as male monarchs defending patches of milkweed. Monarchs need that once-ubiquitous plant to breed and feed.

“We’re definitely seeing more monarchs fluttering around the park this year than we did at the same time last year, so that’s encouraging for all of us,” said park interpreter Sarah Rupert.

Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, says that after an all-time low population last year, the number of monarchs could rise by 30 to 40 percent this fall.

Loss of habitat and pesticide use due to expanding agriculture is mainly to blame, according to experts.

Last summer’s extreme drought in the U.S. Corn Belt wiped out huge numbers of milkweeds.

Monarch experts say that was a fatal blow to many of the iconic fliers.



Monarch Butterfly Migration May Be Vanishing

The lowest number of monarch butterflies ever recorded in their Mexican winter home has experts worrying about the future of the epic monarch migration.

A new report by the World Wildlife Fund and two Mexican agencies says this year’s precipitous plunge in monarch numbers is due to the loss of the insect’s main food: milkweed.

Loss of the plant’s habitat to urban sprawl and expanding agriculture is said to be literally starving the insects to death. Recent bad weather hasn’t helped.

The black-and-orange iconic butterflies now cover only 1.65 acres in the pine and fir forests of Michoacan state, west of Mexico City.

That’s compared to almost 3 acres last year and more than 44.5 acres at the recorded peak in 1995.

Experts say the long-term decline in the butterfly’s population can no longer be due to brief and unusual weather conditions.

“The main culprit is now [genetically modified] herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA,” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed,” said Sweet Briar College entomologist Lincoln Brower.

The extreme drought in the U.S. corn belt during the summer of 2012 also wiped out huge numbers of milkweeds. Elizabeth Howard of Journey North says that was a fatal blow to many of the iconic fliers.

Monarchs typically live only four to five weeks, except for the generation that emerges in late summer. That’s the one that migrates the entire way southward to the species’ wintering grounds in Michoacan.



Hundreds of dead animals found at South Africa airport

More than 1,600 animals were discovered crammed into two crates at the OR Tambo International Airport. The survivors are being treated at a local zoo.

The animals, from Madagascar, had been without water and food for at least five days, reports say.

They are believed to have been destined for the exotic pet market in the US.

The animals, which included at least 30 different species of frogs, chameleons, lizards and toads and geckos, had been placed in two crates about half a metre in size – one on top of the other.

The chameleons were tied in small muslin bags, while the other reptiles and amphibians were crammed into small plastic tubs. Some of the animals were so tightly packed together that they were unable to move or turn around.

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Drought – Indonesia

Drought damages rice crops. This year’s drought has taken a toll on rice crops as hundreds of hectares of paddy fields in 13 districts in Cirebon regency, West Java, have been damaged.


The continuing drought is making the planting of sorghum a struggle. Continued dry conditions in cropping areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales have prevented farmers getting sorghum crops planted.

Texas, USA

Experts fear the drought in Texas is hurting monarch butterfly migration – Fewer monarch butterflies could be flying through Texas while migrating to Mexico due to the lingering drought and lack of food along their migration path.


Migrating Monarch Butterflies Disappearing

Clusters of colourful monarch butterflies are now in the midst of their marathon migration southward across a broad swath of North America, but observers warn their numbers have plummeted again this year.

This year’s reports indicate that the decline in monarch numbers over the past 10 to 15 years appears to have been much steeper this summer.

Biologist Jeremy Kerr told the Ottawa Citizen that he thinks numbers are now down by as much as 90 percent.

Loss of habitat and pesticide use due to expanding agriculture is mainly to blame, according to experts.

Last summer’s extreme drought in the U.S. corn belt wiped out huge numbers of milkweeds, which the monarchs need to breed and feed.

Elizabeth Howard of Journey North says that was a fatal blow to many of the iconic fliers.

Monarchs typically live only four to five weeks, except for the generation that emerges in late summer. That’s the one that migrates the entire way southward to the species’ wintering grounds in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

The small number of southward migrants this autumn has caused even more concerns over the long-term future of the world’s longest-migrating butterflies.



Pesticides Not Main Cause of Bee Disappearance: U.S.

Despite a push in Europe to restrict the use of three pesticides in an attempt to stop the disappearance of honeybees, a new U.S. report says there is no single factor contributing to the ongoing decline of the pollinating insects.

A report issued jointly by the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency blames so-called “colony collapse disorder” on a wide range of factors.

They include viral and bacterial infection, habitat loss, industrial farming practices, pesticides and a lack of genetic diversity.

The single biggest cause, according to the report, is varroatosis, a disease carried by the parasitic mite, varroa destructor.

Colony collapse syndrome has ravaged bee colonies across both the United States and Europe since at least 2006.

In any given year, as many as one-third of all bees in the nation bees are lost to the mysterious ailment.

This month, EU policy makers voted to impose temporary restrictions on the agricultural use of three neonicotinoids, a pesticide related to the stimulant nicotine.

As a relatively new form of pest-agent, neonicotinoids are pointed to by many environmental groups as the chief culprit behind colony collapse disorder.

Regulators in the United States are not considering adopting similar restrictions any time soon.

According to the recent report, though pesticides are considered to be one threat to bee health, with as many as 100 different chemicals present in any given colony, it is impossible to narrow the culprit to one class of compound.


Monarch Swarms Wintering in New Zealand Trees

Nature lovers across New Zealand are reporting large numbers of overwintering monarch butterflies.

During the last southern summer, the butterflies failed to return to some areas after a tough and cold spell dampened their breeding grounds.

New Zealand monarchs don’t migrate long distances like their North American cousins.

Instead, they find their way to trees in well-sheltered areas where they rest during the winter months.

Breeding will start in the spring once the colourful creatures have rested up.

The Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust is asking residents to log any monarch sightings they may have on the group’s website, especially if the butterfly is tagged.

That allows the trust to generate a map showing the origin of the butterfly and the time it took to get to its destination.



Monarch Butterfly Populations Under Pressure

Monarch butterflies — one of the sure signs of spring and summer — may not be as plentiful this year across the USA, in part because of the ongoing drought and recent wildfires in Texas that ravaged their food sources.

Similar conditions have affected Monarch butterflies in New Zealand. See Post.


Monarchs Go Missing During Kiwi Summer

New Zealanders are wondering where the country’s iconic monarch butterflies have gone this southern summer. They failed to return in some areas after a cold and tough winter dampened their breeding grounds on the South Island.


While related to their North American cousins, New Zealand monarchs don’t migrate vast distances.

They instead adapt to local conditions, often wintering along the coast where temperatures seldom fall below 50 degrees.

Experts say climate change may be what has affected the monarchs recently.

“Monarchs are an indicator species, telling us a lot about how other insects are going, and this is something to watch closely as we need our insects,” said an expert.

Experts say the colorful insects are likely to rebound in the years to come as colonies recover from last winter’s adverse conditions.