February wasn’t the month of love just because of Valentine’s Day: it also marked the beginning of Monarch butterfly mating season. Butterflies throughout the Mexican state of Michoacan are awakening from their winter slumber to mate this spring and begin their mysterious migration north. The spectacle attracts spectators from around the world but this yearly event is being threatened by changing seasonal temperatures.
The plight of the Monarchs is quickly becoming the most visible symptom of climate change because the insect’s migration pattern is so closely tied to temperature. The Monarch butterfly winters in the mountains of central Mexico and heads north into the US and Canada. A full five generations later, amazingly, Monarch butterflies somehow find their way back into the same roosting spot. While this phenomenon is not completely understood as of yet, a new study released last week confirmed the importance of temperature for regulating the butterfly’s migration patterns. As climate change brings about warmer winter temperatures and unpredictable summers, the Monarch butterfly might not know how to return to its ancestral roosting spot.
Two works released in 2012 delve into the mysterious world of the Monarchs and present the perilous threat facing the insects. The migration of the Monarchs is fully explored in the new documentary, Flight of the Butterflies, released last fall and playing in iMax theaters around the country. Barbara Kingsolver’s most recent novel, Flight Behavior fictionalizes the challenges posed to the butterflies and their habitats due to climate change—caused both by temperature changes and the impacts of logging in Mexico and the United States.
It might be too late to reverse climate change to save the Monarch butterfly, but as the luminous creatures disappear from backyards this summer, for many, the impact of climate change will be closer to home than ever before.