The butterfly, one of the prettiest insects in the world
Worldwide it is estimated that 17,500 species of butterflies exist. That really seems like a lot. In the United States, there are around 750 species. That again seems like a lot, but these beautiful insects are disappearing. It all comes down to the fact that we are the cause, how sad.
Did you know that the oldest fossil of a butterfly is between 40-50 million years? Amazing when one thinks how tender this small insect is. To have lived so long ago and still be present in our world today.
The tomb of Nebamun
The butterfly has been a subject in art to many. There is a lovely tomb painting depicting Nebamun hunting in the marshes. Besides animals, you can also see birds and lovely butterflies depicted. Nebamun seems to have been associated with the temple and had to help manage the grain supplies for Egypt. This was an important job giving him a certain status.
These 11 paintings were found in Thebes and date back to 1350 BC. They were bought by the British Museum in the 1820s.
Wen Shu, a female painter
Wen Shu who lived from 1594-1634 was the great-great-granddaughter of Wen Zhengming 1470-1559. He was one of the greatest painters, calligraphers, and scholars during the Ming dynasty. Wen Shu must have inherited his artistic abilities as she also was an excellent painter making beautiful works of nature flowers, plants, and butterflies.
The poet Walt Whitman
There is a very nice black and white photograph of the American poet Walt Whitman. It was taken in 1877 and you see him sitting holding a butterfly on his finger. He proclaimed it was a real butterfly but actually it was a photographic prop. Anyhow, the butterfly was and is liked by most people in the world.
2 World famous painters creating butterflies
Vincent van Gogh painted a series of butterflies in 1889-1890. Salvador Dali also used the butterfly as a motive. The old Flemish Masters on their elaborated flower compositions would include butterflies. Throughout art history, the butterfly has been depicted and is the best-loved of all insects. You may also find the butterfly in literature. Here come 2 nice quotes:
“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days-three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.” This quote comes from John Keats, Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne
Then there is this other rather funny quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.
“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
As you can see, the butterfly has been known for a very long time and is depicted in art and mentioned in literature. People worldwide are more conscious about the disappearing of this lovely insect. Once again the alarm bell is ringing. A species is in danger.
Why the Monarch is disappearing
Again a species, in this case, the Monarch butterfly is in grave danger. This beautiful butterfly is on the verge of being exterminated by men. The Monarch butterfly has seen a decline of more than 90% in the last years. There are multiple reasons for this to happen. Its natural habitat is growing smaller as we need land to build cities, more houses, shopping malls, and roads.
This is what humans need and deforestation in Mexico is a major contribution to the Monarch’s plight. Air pollution is not beneficial for this tender insect and neither are the severe weather changes.
But the worse culprit is the massive increase in the use of glyphosate, the main active ingredient of Roundup, a herbicide, made by the company Monsanto. Glyphosate is allowed in the U.S since 1974. Roundup does not only kill plants but also insects like bees. This product is bad for the total environment.
How the food source of the Monarch is eliminated
This herbicide which is used worldwide is in the foods we eat. Farmers are spraying it on GMO crops like corn and soybeans. But glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide and applying it to crops will kill many other types of plants. The Monarch butterfly eats Milkweed and that plant is the Monarch’s only food source. Milkweed is a beneficial wildflower and there are more than 100 species of Milkweed native to the United States.
The female butterflies lay their eggs in this plant and the caterpillars that are to become Monarch butterflies, eat it. They do not like other plants and when there is no Milkweed available the producing cycle collapses. Milkweed is disappearing because of spraying with Roundup and that makes it impossible for this butterfly to survive.
A very long voyage
The migration of the Monarch butterfly is quite amazing. They travel 4000 to 7000 km to escape the winter. Since 1994 the record keeping of these insects started. When they arrive in Mexico at their overwintering grounds there might be from 10 to 50 million butterflies per hectare.
In 1996 there was a peak of 1 billion butterflies but over the years less and less arrived each year. In 2017 there were only around 33 million Monarchs in Mexico. This sharp decline has been observed over the years and is worrisome.
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
The Reserve was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 2008. This Biosphere was specially created for the Monarch butterfly so it would have a protected environment to spend its winter.
This protected area has an extension of 56,000 hectares but only a small part is occupied by the Monarch butterfly as their numbers are in drastic decline. If you are interested to visit this place the best months are January and February.
Try and choose a sunny day as then the butterflies will be out and flying about. On dark days they stay together hanging like clusters from a tree branch. On weekends it can get a bit crowded as Mexican people will flock to the park.
A visit to El Rosario
There are 5 colonies which are open to visit but one of the most accessible ones is El Rosario. With the entrance fee of 50 pesos, which is approx 3 Euros, you are also given a guide. One climbs up the mountain to a height of 3000 meters. On the top is a place where you can take a rest. In certain times of the year, there might be some snow up there.
The butterflies cover an area with some 1500 trees but you cannot come too close to them. There is a rope around the trees at about 30 meters distance. As cameras are so good nowadays and all have zoom included, it will not be a problem to make lovely pictures.
What are we doing to our environment? Butterflies also form part of creation and we should protect it instead of destroying it. The fact that Milkweed is the only food source for the Monarch butterfly is worrying as every year the Milkweed plant is more difficult to find. This plant is also a food source for nectar-seeking bees, flies, seed bugs, longhorn beetles, and leaf beetles. It is very adaptable and can grow in deserts, plains, valleys, wetlands, and open woods.
The name Milkweed comes from the milky latex sap. It can be poisonous, but as the taste is bitter animals normally avoid eating it. The caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly does eat it and is therefore not a good bite to predators, it even shows with its bright colors as a warning of their bitter taste. So plant some Milkweed in your garden to help Monarch butterflies on their journey with an adequate food supply.
Source: Wikipedia, The World Digital Library, EWG
Photo Source: Pixabay
Perhaps you also like to read my other post on butterflies.