The Obama administration is planning to create a “green highway,” which aims to save the beautiful monarch butterflies migrating each year in millions between Mexico and the United States.
Although there is no incontrovertible evidence that genetically modified crops are harmful to people, they have certainly proved to be, at least indirectly, deadly to monarchs (Danaus plexippus).
Millions of these beautiful orange butterflies migrate every year from Mexico up to the Canadian border and back. Their journey is one of the most impressive phenomena in North American nature, if not in general. It is all the more impressive given that a single individual weighs less than one gram. Especially unbelievable are trees and even entire forests that seem to have butterflies instead of leaves.
Unfortunately, as scientists are warning, in the last two decades, the population of monarchs has decreased by 90 percent, and last year, the ecologists from the Center for Biological Diversity submitted an application to Washington for placing the insects on the list of endangered species (their numbers are estimated on the surface of the Central Mexican forest they “cover” during winter). Strictly speaking, they are not as much killed by GMO crops — after all, they do not consume them — as by their production technology, specifically by Roundup, a chemical against weeds, which is used in combination with the production of genetically modified corn and soy.
These two crops have been so modified in the U.S. that Roundup (or other herbicides, similar weedkillers) is harmless to them, but it kills all other plants, making production extremely effective. This technology is used to harvest yields from 60 million hectares of land, mainly in Central West America.
It is unfortunate that this is where milkweed (Asclepias), the only plant that monarch larvae feed on, grows. This is indeed the reason why, in the spring, butterflies abandon their wintering grounds in Mexico and fly north. In order for their offspring to survive, eggs must be laid on milkweed leaves. The plant produces a poisonous milky sap, and this is why monarch larvae are poisonous to potential predators. It provides them with a relative untouchability. On the way north, subsequent generations of monarchs grow while their parents die. To cover the distance of 3,000 km, at least six generations of butterflies are required. On the other hand, winter in the U.S. is too harsh on them. That’s why they have to go back south, to Central Mexico.
This whole cycle has been disturbed by Roundup, which destroys milkweed on a massive scale. Some ecologists demand a ban on its use, but that is unrealistic. GMOs are a big business in the USA: More than 90 percent of corn is modified.
The Obama administration has planned something much less dramatic, but more realistic. Along Interstate 35, which stretches from Texas to Minnesota, south to north, a “green highway” is intended to be created, covering an area of about 80,000 hectares. Milkweed will be planted there.
The National Wildlife Federation, which is the largest organization protecting wildlife in the USA, is not waiting for the realization of the government’s plan and already distributes milkweed seeds. They can be planted in the field, in the meadow or outside the house. Approximately 40,000 submissions — four times more than expected — were sent to the Be a Butterfly Hero project, mainly by kids promising to plant milkweed on behalf of the whole family, which is why the federation ran out of seeds.
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