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Monarch Butterfly Population in Mexico Triples

Peter Miller

Heartening news out of Mexico this week: monarch butterfly populations at the southern end of their migration pattern are up from last year. They covered 10 acres of land, more than five times larger than their all-time population low in 2013. There’s still room for improvement—in 1996, they covered 45 acres. Donald Lewis, Iowa State University extension entomologist, says this news, while good, doesn’t mean the problem is solved.

“We’re going to enjoy the good news but we’re also going to realize we aren’t real sure why the population went down. We’ve got a lot of theories. We’re not real sure why it’s come up for two years. As much as anything to a scientist, this means we still have a lot of questions to answer.”

One action item is the planting of milkweed, the only plant where monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. But Lewis says that solution comes with perception problems of its own.

“The problem is we’ve spent decades, most of us spent our entire life, hating milkweed because ‘It is a weed. It’s got weed right in its name. Why would we like that plant?’ Now we have to change our thinking, and it may be slower for some people than others to come around to the point that ‘Oh, just because I call it a weed in one place, the middle of my field, doesn’t mean it’s a weed in other places.’”

Iowa has a strong history of loving, and protecting, the Monarch. Now that tradition is continuing with Kelly Gilbeau, the co-founder of the RAGBRAI group Milkweed Matters. Gilbeau started tossing milkweed seeds along her RAGBRAI route with one friend last spring. They’re planning to throw nearly 70,000 seeds this year.

“Milkweed is the big issue here that at least everyone here in Iowa has some say in. There’s a question, how can we plant milkweed in Iowa? And it seems like 17,000 people on bikes going across the state seems like a pretty easy way to get all that seed distributed.”

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Lewis and Gilbeau about Monarchs. Also in this program, a conversation with Kari Byron, host of the Travel Channel’s Thrill Factor.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa