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Sharp drop in monarch butterflies wintering in California: researchers

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The number of monarchs wintering in California has dropped to a five-year low, despite more volunteers counting more sites in search of the orange-and-black insect that is arguably the most admired of North American butterflies, a report said on Friday.

The latest tally of 200,000 monarchs in forested groves in California’s central coast has dropped from the 1.2 million counted two decades ago, indicating the number of butterflies found west of the Rocky Mountains, or the so-called western population, continues to sharply decline, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said in a report.

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“It’s certainly concerning,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for the Xerces Society.

Western monarchs are born on milkweed plants in such states as Arizona, Idaho, Utah and Washington before embarking on a seasonal migration to California.

The annual count in California, done at the end of autumn by dozens of volunteers and scientists, last saw a severe low in 2012, with 144,812 butterflies across 136 sites, she said.

In another troubling trend, the 200,000 butterflies found in the 2017 survey stemmed from monitoring of 262 sites, which were even more sites than were tracked the previous year when 300,000 monarchs were counted, Jepsen said.

Factors that may have compounded monarchs’ plight in California in recent months include unseasonably warm temperatures, wildfires, smoke from wildfires and mudslides, all of which may have played roles in reports of monarchs migrating and breeding later than usual, she said.

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While much is known about the decades-long population decline of monarchs in the eastern and central United States, which number in the tens of millions and which winter in Mexico before winging north in a famed mass migration, scientists have only recently been able to track the western variety due to new statistical models.

Scientists believe declines in both U.S. monarch populations are linked to human development that has seen the destruction of roosting trees in California and Mexico, climate change and farmers’ increasing use of pesticides that kill the milkweed plants butterflies depend on for reproduction and food.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering adding monarchs to the federal list of endangered and threatened species.

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A 2017 study funded by the agency found that the western population has a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years and an 84 percent chance in 50 years if current trends continue.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Wyoming; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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New Zealand may postpone general election after 4 test positive for COVID-19: PM Jacinda Ardern

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New Zealand locked down nursing homes nationwide Wednesday after a 102-day streak without the coronavirus ended, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the outbreak could force her to postpone next month's general election.

Ardern said authorities were scrambling to trace anyone who had been in contact with four Auckland residents who tested positive Tuesday, ending the dream run in which the virus had been contained at New Zealand's borders.

A three-day stay-at-home order for Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city with a population of 1.5 million, was announced on Tuesday night and went into force at lunchtime on Wednesday.

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2020 Election

Android phones to get ‘ShakeAlert’ earthquake warnings — and phones may double as tremor detectors

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Android phones will receive warnings triggered by a "ShakeAlert" earthquake early-warning system implemented on the West Coast by the US Geological Survey and partners.

ShakeAlert uses signals from hundreds of seismometers across the state to trigger warning messages that "an earthquake has begun and shaking is imminent," according to the system's website.

"We saw an opportunity to use Android to provide people with timely, helpful earthquake information when they search, as well as a few seconds warning to get themselves and their loved ones to safety if needed," principal software engineer Marc Stogaitis said in a blog post.

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2020 Election

‘Don’t talk about racism, racist’: Trump scorched after claiming Biden-Harris campaign has a ‘racism problem’

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President Donald Trump continued to lash out at Kamala Harris after the California Democrat was chosen to join the 2020 Democratic Party ticket as presumptive nominee Joe Biden's running mate.

At a news conference following the selection, Trump complained about Harris being "nasty."

After 10 p.m. on Monday, Trump tweeted out an attack ad claiming "Joe Biden has a racism problem."

Here's some of what people were saying about Trump's line of attack:

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