Monarch butterflies have experienced a drastic drop in their population this year. According to official counts by the World Wildlife Fund and the Mexican government, there were only 60 million butterflies spending winter in Mexico this year. While this may seem like a lot, it's actually an 80 percent decrease from the annual average of 350 million butterflies.
This is the lowest count since the populations were first recorded 20 years ago.
The population decline was noticed in Canada as well. Monarch butterflies migrate north to Canada during the warm summer months, usually being spotted there in early June. This year, the first sightings came as late as mid-July. In certain areas the population was previously seen to be over 100 butterflies, now, fewer than five have been observed.
The number of monarch butterflies has been in gradual decline over the past eight years, according to Donald Davis, chair of the Monarch Butterfly Fund.
"I have never seen them this low," said Davis. "Ever. In all my years of studying monarchs."
In a recent interview, Orley Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch, talked about the possible factors leading to the decline in population. One of the reasons, according to Taylor, is the increased planting of genetically modified corn in the Midwest United States. The increased usage of GMOs correlates to an increase in the use of herbicides, which in turn kills milkweed plants that butterflies depend on for sustenance.
What we're seeing here in the United States," Taylor said, "is a very precipitous decline of monarchs that's coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans."
There is no clear answer yet as to why monarch butterfly populations, however, one can safely assume that it is due to something that has been introduced to their environment. More study is needed on this phenomenon to ensure the survival and propagation of this majestic species.