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The population of western monarch butterflies wintering along the California coast has rebounded for a second year in a row after a precipitous drop in 2020, but the population of orange-and-black insects is still well below what it used to be, researchers announced.
Volunteers who visited sites in California and Arizona around Thanksgiving tallied more than 330,000 butterflies, the highest number of these insects counted in the last six years. It was a promising rebound after the annual winter count in 2020 recorded fewer than 2,000 butterflies. In 2021, the number recorded was 247,000.
“I think we can all celebrate and this is really exciting,” said Emma Pelton, a conservation biologist at the Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates. “We were all so relieved last year when we had about 250,000 butterflies, and to see that number tick up even modestly this year, it’s really a good sign that we’ve got a second chance.”
Pelton said it’s not clear why the population has rebounded but one explanation could be that eastern monarch butterflies, which tend to spend the winter in Mexico, could be mixing with their western counterparts.
“Some of that kind of leakage could be occurring and I don’t think we fully understand the system enough to say what it is,” she said. “But I think one thing it’s not is that all is well or that we all made human actions that magically made it all better.”
The population is still far below what it was in the 1980s, when monarchs numbered in the millions.
Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in western states because of destruction to their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and the use of pesticides and herbicides increases.
Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile (4,828-kilometer) migration synched to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.