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U.S. gardeners plant milkweed to sustain declining Monarch population

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A decline of the monarch butterfly population has entomologists worried about their fate. Numbers are at the lowest level since monitoring began in 1993, reports The Dispatch on January 30. The annual monarch migration begins in the fall when millions of monarch butterflies wing their way from the United States to their winter home in Mexico.

According to the Monarch Butterfly Website, these black-and-orange butterflies travel 2,500 miles to reach their winter home in Mexico where they cluster together on oyamel fir trees.

Upon arrival in Mexico, these brightly colored butterflies blanket trees as thousands create a cluster of fluttering wings, bringing the area alive with color. Because of this practice, the migrating population is counted by the area it covers. At their peak in 1996, monarch butterflies covered 44.5 acres. This year the monarch butterflies are confined to a mere 1.65 acres.

When the time arrives for the monarch to continue breeding, it wings its way north where it finds host plants for the developing caterpillars.

The common milkweed plant (Asclepias syriaca) is the primary host plant for monarch butterflies. Scientists think that part of the problem causing the decrease in numbers of monarch butterflies lies in the destruction of milkweed plants throughout the United States. Weather may also play an important role in the declining numbers of migrating monarch butterflies.

Some homeowners and gardeners along the Gulf Coast have begun planting milkweed in an attempt to provide the monarch butterfly with host plants.

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