Once among the most abundant and lovely of backyard summertime visitors, the monarch butterfly is vanishing at a disturbing rate.
Easy as it is to blame habitat abuse in the species’ Mexican winter home, it turns out that harm done here may be even worse.
Not so long ago, the orange and black butterflies were everywhere in New England — backyard gardens were visited by dozens at a time. Last summer, though, weeks could go by without a sighting and it’s getting worse fast.
Researchers say there are now only one-fifteenth as many monarchs as there were in 1997 and that the population in their Mexican range this winter has dropped by 59 percent from last year to this.
Some of the fault does lie with Mexico where loggers have stripped sections of the mountainous fir forests where the butterflies spend their winters. But those forests are now better protected and the cutting is greatly diminished.
Not diminished at all, however, is the assault here on milkweed, the butterflies’ primary source of food and the plant on which they lay their eggs.
Considered by many a roadside weed and nuisance, milkweed is attacked with poison spray and weedwackers. Once everywhere along South Coast roadsides, the East Bay Bike Path — lots of places — milkweed has fallen victim to our preference for the well-manicured look. And as milkweed goes, so go monarch butterflies.
The only hope for these creatures is a less heavy-handed approach by all — highway road crews, landscapers and homeowners.
Milkweed may be a ‘weed’ to some. To a monarch butterfly it is life itself.