An orchardist made a historic discovery on Good Friday in the forests of Michoacán when he and an agronomic engineer discovered butterfly caterpillars on a species of milkweed plant.
It wasn’t just any butterfly, but the monarch, whose numbers have been devastated in recent years as a result of lost habitat in Mexico and lost milkweed in the United States.
Until now it was believed the monarch butterflies reproduced only in the southern U.S., said Gloria Tavera Alonso, director of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, but the finding offers evidence to the contrary.
She said the discovery is important, although it is not known if the butterflies have always reproduced in Mexico as well as the U.S., or if’s something new, related to temperatures or other environmental factors this year.
The insect could also be changing its reproductive habits due to a significant loss of milkweed in soy and corn fields in the U.S. An estimated 58% of the plants have been lost as farmers have sought to control them with the herbicide Roundup.
It was fruit farmer José Blancas Fuentes who saw the caterpillars while he and his brother-in-law, an agronomic engineer with an interest in botany, were harvesting peaches. After studying the caterpillars, the latter sent photos to a relative employed by the Commission for Protected Areas.
Confirmation followed that the images showed monarch butterfly caterpillars, which set off a successful search for more.
The next step is to continue searching for more milkweed plants and eggs and caterpillars to determine how many monarchs are reproducing in the reserve, and work with landowners to ensure the plant is protected, said Tavera.
The monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the U.S. every fall to the forests of Michoacán and the State of México. Their numbers have been in decline for some years, although there was an increase this year following an estimation in January.
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