The black and orange monarch butterfly has begun its 3,000-mile migration which will take it through Nebraska.
Dr. Ted Burk, Creighton University entomologist, says it’s the only migration of this type in the insect world. Burk says there are hundreds of millions of butterflies involved, spread out all over the eastern half of North America.
Incredibly, he says they are all going to a small area in Mexico no bigger than Creighton’s campus. Burk says other monarch populations in the world don’t do this.
Though the monarch migration is passing through Nebraska, there won’t be as many monarchs making that journey this year as in years past.
Burk says there are three primary threats to the monarch butterflies and they all boil down to habitat loss.
"And a lot of the milkweed which is the only plant that caterpillars can grow on is actually growing in and around cornfields. So now that Roundup ready corn and beans are widely used, there’s a lot less milkweed. The use of the herbicide to get a nice clean crop has eliminated a lot of their food base.”
He says the area of forest the butterflies go to has been reduced by half in the last 40-50 years.
Additionally, Burk says monarchs might not be as prepared to make it to Mexico as they used to due to the absence of fall flowers like asters and sunflowers.
Burk says the butterflies typically feed on these flowers to fatten up on their way south. Without enough fat on their bodies, the monarchs might have a tough time surviving winter.
Here in Nebraska, you may see the big orange butterflies anywhere there is a nice patch of flowers, especially zinnias or verbenas.
For more information on monarch conservation, the website is MonarchWatch.org.