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 tiny insect is. To have lived so long ago and still be present in our world today.
Do not miss this short but lovely YouTube video of butterflies in slow motion.
The tomb of Nebamun
The butterfly has been a subject in the 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 to 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.
Have a butterfly book in your library
Do you want to know everything about the Monarch butterfly? Well, then this is your book. Through the eyes of Danaus, a butterfly, you will be acquainted with the life cycle, feeding habits, migration, predators, and mating of the monarch butterfly.
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 of the disappearance 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 over 90% in the last years. There are multiple reasons for this to happen. Its natural habitat is growing smaller. We need land to build cities, more houses, shopping malls, and roads, and that is the problem.
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. They allow glyphosate in the U.S since 1974. Roundup kills not only plants but also insects like bees. This product is dangerous 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 over 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 dislike 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 has 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 to 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 that 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, they also give you 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. At 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 them instead of destroying them. 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 eats 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.
I have made a special page for you. It holds a collection of things you might be interested in. Before you leave, have a look at Recommendations.
Source: Wikipedia, The World Digital Library, EWG
Photo Source: Pixabay
Perhaps you also like to read my other post on butterflies.
I love butterflies, especially the monarch butterfly and it saddens me that their numbers have greatly decreased and are continuing to do so. I remember being a kid in the 1980s and I used to see a great amount of them each year, but as time went on, it was always less and less. While I have seen some this year, as recently as about a month or so ago, it just isn’t the same amount as their used to be. I’m glad you talked about how their food sources are being eliminated. Crazy to think that Roundup is responsible for Milkweed disappearing! It’s nice to know though that there is a Monarch Butterfly Reserve and hope that there will more of these kinds of reserves popping up in other places. Thank you for sharing this.
Good Morning Brian,
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Monsanto is an evil company with an old and sinister history. The damage they have done worldwide cannot be described, it is enormous.
The Monarch butterfly goes to that particular place in Mexico as there the climate is the right one for them to stay safe during the winter. Actually, there is more than enough space for them, they only occupy a small part. We have to try and provide more food for them during this long trip they make. If people would privately plant Milkweed along the route of the butterflies that would already help some. It would be better to have Roundup banned from using it to spray crops.
I love butterflies, as a matter of fact, my pen-name is ‘madam butterfly’ in English. It is such a shame that we are not being more aware of the help these beautiful creatures give to our world. They may be small but they, too, play a role in the promulgation of our world.
Your article made in smile in some places and then made me angry in some. I hope more people will become aware and do their ‘small’ part in ‘saving’ the butterfly kingdom, especially the Monarch.
Thanks for sharing.
Good Morning Michelle,
Yes, I can imagine you were angry reading this news in my post. It is so sad that we humans always need to destroy. There are also many people who do positive things in this world. I often get the impression it is a battle between good and bad.
Especially in America there are things happening which worry me. National Parks which are in danger, environmental laws which are pushed aside, drilling off the coast, too many things which will affect the American people and all the people in the world.
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This is an awakening blog for the world. Amazing and intuitive writing that educates us. Awesome topic with a magnificent description of art, literature, history and slow disappearance of this lovely animal! The cause, use of Monsanto’s Roundup as herbicide to protect the crop and destroying the food for butterflies along with bees’ food to deplete the earth essentials should be looked at a higher level of authority.
I enjoyed one of it kind topic today. I hope this message would reach everyone as a wake up call. Thank you for the share
Good Morning Anusuya,
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Sadly the higher authorities seem to be mainly people with a tremendous greed. Money rules the world and it does not matter if nature is destroyed and people get sick and die. The more I investigate into these things the more I am saddened to see that the human race is far from realizing that one should respect creation and instead of destroying protect it.
It’s so sad to ready about how the monarch butterfly is becoming more extinct. I really wish they would outlaw all of these terrible pesticides that are doing EVERYONE harm. Since organic food is becoming increasingly more popular, you would think that Monstano would see that you don’t need to spray crops to be able to produce viable food products. It really makes me mad to hear of all of these different insects dying off.
Thanks for a great article and for raising awareness on the declining Monarch population 🙁
Good Morning Nicki,
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I do not think Monsanto cares one bit about butterflies or people. They have been telling us now so many years that Roundup is harmless which is a lie. To go the organic way and not buy from companies which use GMO in their products is all we can do for the moment.
I don’t joke with butterflies, if its possible to have them as pets, I will surely do because their advantages outweighs its disadvantages. The help they give to our world is enourmous. Your article is an eye opener for me because i learnt alot for real. I hope everyone can read and digest this
Good afternoon Hussain,
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Personally, I think the closest you will ever come to having butterflies as pets is to make a butterfly garden. Doing that you will see it will attract them and you can enjoy seeing them. Nice to hear you liked my post.
I never would have thought that the Monarch was at risk of becoming extinct. Wow. There seem to be abundant. It was a good read. You seem to care about and have a passion for these butterflies and I can certainly appreciate that. I have never heard of the milkweed plant. Is there a specific climate within which they thrive. It cannot be anything too far beyond where the Monarch butterflies thrive. I thing you did a very good job bringing some awareness to this sensitive issue. Continue to work with us so that we too can play our part in preserving the earth. Way to go.
Good afternoon Coach,
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Humans do a lot of stupid and also dangerous things. We are destroying the environment at an alarming rate. That is definitely not clever as it is our habitat. I think we have a responsibility for future generations. They also have a right to live on a beautiful Planet.
I indeed agree with you that butterflies are one of the prettiest insects in the world we live in. The statistics you showed on the species of butterflies available is really a great one. II have indeed added to my knowledge base by reading your article. Though i never knew the species of butterfly could be up to seven hundred and fifty, because in the country i live in i do not think i have seen more than three different kinds of species (smile). Its so good to have come across your website. Thanks so much for this educative post. I hope to read more of your posts, subsequently. Cheers!
Good afternoon Cohen,
Nice to hear you liked my post. On my farm in the south of Spain are quite a few butterflies as the farm is organic and the same applies to my neighbors with their avocado farms. Try and put some plants in your garden which will make the butterfly happy. Doing that I am sure you will see more of them.
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Wow! And this is a masterpiece post. Its very exhaustive and insightful. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across this particular specie of butterfly but I really wish I had due to its fast rate of decline. Man is the architect of good and bad things happening to nature. I never realised a butterfly specie could have survived for so long. I’ll urge the government to please preserve these sacred and tender creatures. At least, they could limit the level of deforestation to preserve them. I really feel for them.
thsnks for sharing this
Good afternoon Rodger,
Nice to see you again. Thank you for your comment.
I think nature is amazing. I enjoy walking over my farm and observing all the happenings. My farm is organic since 1981 and luckily my neighbor followed some years ago. I can see an increase of little lives, they like it here. Just now I come back from a little tour in the garden and spotted a snake hanging in a bush. Getting rid of Roundup, that awful product of Monsanto would greatly help our environment.
Wow, I am intrigued by your article. I have never thought about these insects, though I know their importance in our ecosystem. I was taught in high school about cross-pollination and this is achieved by these insects.
The thought of us contributing to their extinction is saddened. A call of action is important to prevent these great species from going into extinction. Education about these species and afforestation needs to be compulsory in order to restore these loses. Thank you for the awareness is very important.
Good afternoon Augusta,
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Bees do a lot of pollination but in their area, as they have a home. Migrating butterflies can do also a lot of cross-pollination as they are on the move. These are tender and small insects but so important for our survival. We should take better care of the environment, that is for sure.
I heard somewhere that insects are more important than humans in keeping the ecosystem at equilibrium. Actually nature’s biggest enemy is man, man kills plants, insects and themselves.
The drastic decline in the monarch butterfly population by 90 percent, is alarming and should be treated with utmost urgency, to save these Beautiful Creatures that are contributing so much in the beauty and equilibrium of the ecosystem.
Good afternoon Peace,
Nice to see you again. Thank you for your comment.
Come to think of it, humans are the only species which is trying to eliminate themselves, quite crazy. We should take better care of Mother Earth, she is a living being. This is our home and that of future generations. We have this responsibility.
I feel sorry for human beings, with our activities that affect the butterfly because there is no way we will talk about beauty without saying butterfly. They represent beauty and over time we make use of them as a symbol of beauty. Sometimes I wonder as assuming this animal and as we hunt it down will also hurt us along the way. I wonder how many of us will be left in this world. Is just unfortunate how we can’t live in peace without causing harm to this creation of nature.
Good afternoon Afolabi,
Nice to see you again. Thank you for your comment.
We are causing a serious disbalance in our environment. Our actions have far-reaching consequences. It is high time that we stop and start thinking about how to protect our environment, after all, it is our habitat.
Hi Teetske; this is a much-interested story about the Monarch Butterfly. I learn something about butterfly from reading your post that I never knew before. I never knew that Butterfly migrates to a warmer climate during the approach of winter.
Where I am, Butterflies feed on the Lignum -Vitae blossoms, Now I know that it is due to the milk in the Lignum Vitae. It is a spectacular beauty to watch the pretty painted butterflies flying around.
Good afternoon Dorcas,
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I looked up about the Lignum Vitae, it is your Jamaica National Flower. I also saw photos and it looked spectacular, full of butterflies. You have 150 species of butterflies in Jamaica, lucky you. I hope the butterflies are safe in Jamaica and that one does not use Roundup.
My farm is organic since 1981 and my neighbor with his avocados is also organic for some years. One can clearly see an increase in little lives and birds.
You bring up some very important points. As organic farmers, our family strives to maintain a safe and welcoming haven for the monarchs, other butterflies, and the honeybees, too. In fact, we often see the ever-delightful hummingbirds, too!
But you are right–so many do not know or perhaps care about preserving these beautiful creatures. Maybe if they understood how they are so necessary in our bio-system they would give more consideration. People are usually amazed when I tell them that although we consider bees to be the pollinators, some plants are pollinated by other insects such as butterflies and some by birds, such as the hummingbirds.
In fact, any insect, even the annoying pests (they usually become food for the beneficial ones), might be considered essential to us.
Thanks for a very informative article that I can easily share!
Good afternoon Diane,
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How nice you have hummingbirds. They do not live in the south of Spain, but I wish they would as I think they are adorable.
Nature has it so well organized. Bats and wasps are also pollinators. Some people do not like these animals, but I think the whole creation is a wonder to behold. We should take better care of the environment as we do not own it. We have the privilege to live our life here.
Watching butterflies fly in slow motion gives me a peaceful feeling and they are so angelic. Light and small they are but mighty to have flown 4000 – 7000 km to escape the winter. It’s truly amazing indeed. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the read.
Good Morning Sharon,
Thank you for your visit and for your comment. Nice to see you again. Did you remember you can download a free PDF of your choice at the tulip widget?
It is so sad what is happening to the Monarch butterfly. The entire creation is being attacked by us. We are destroying so many beautiful things. This causes a great disbalance and eventually, everything is suffering we included.
It takes up to 5 generations of butterflies to reach their destination. The mother butterfly will put her eggs in the milkweed plant. When the babies are born and after growing up they will continue the trip. Nature is amazing.