Save The Butterflies

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Joshua Leo.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3 

“I was watching a butterfly the other day, and I could not stop watching this beautiful flying insect with its colorful wings. I enjoy watching the activities of many insects and animals. But I wondered why I found this butterfly so interesting. Then I understood. It was because I had not seen a butterfly for months.”

Voice 1 

These are the words of Michael Bloch. Michael is a blogger in Australia. On his internet blog, Green Living Tips, he writes about living in a way that is good for the earth. He writes about what he sees in nature. And in 2007, he wrote about how he was seeing fewer and fewer butterflies.

Voice 2 

Michael is not the only one who has noticed that butterflies are disappearing. Experts around the world have noticed too. Over the past 50 years, the number of butterflies worldwide has been decreasing. On today’s Spotlight we look at one particular butterfly – the Monarch. We look at some of the reasons why there are fewer of these butterflies. And we look at some solutions for this problem.

Voice 1 

Like many butterflies, Monarch butterflies are beautiful. The Monarch’s wings are bright orange and black. The black edges of their wings also have small white marks. The Monarch is usually about nine to ten centimeters wide.

Voice 2 

Monarch butterflies live in many places around the world. But the largest number of Monarchs live in North America. And the Monarchs of North America are famous for a long journey they travel every year. Each autumn, millions of Monarchs leave the places they were born. Together, they leave the United States and Canada.  They fly thousands of kilometers south to Mexico.  They do this to escape the cold winter months. This is the yearly Monarch migration. In the spring they travel the other direction – from Mexico to the United States and Canada. Then they mate and reproduce.

Voice 1 

Ernest H. Williams and Dr. Chip Taylor have studied the Monarch migration for many years. Williams teaches biology at Hamilton College. Dr. Taylor studies insects at the University of Kansas and leads a group called Monarch Watch. Recently, they were part of a group of scientists that released a new study.

Voice 2 

This study looked at the Monarch migration. It measured the number of butterflies that reached Mexico every year for almost 20 years.  Scientists cannot count every butterfly. Instead, they look at how much land the group of butterflies uses to rest on. Then they estimate the number of butterflies.  The scientists found that the group of Monarchs in Mexico covers less land than before. In fact, the amount of Monarchs spending the winter in Central Mexico is at the lowest level in 17 years.

Voice 1 

But why are Monarch butterflies disappearing? The study suggests a few reasons. One reason is the loss of their natural resting place. Migrating Monarchs all gather on the same mountains every year. There are only 12 of these mountains. Here, millions of butterflies hang together on the trees. They cover every centimeter of the trees. The Monarchs rest here for the winter. Mexican authorities have tried to protect these natural forest areas. But, people enter illegally. They cut down the trees. Experts believe this may be a major reason there are fewer Monarchs.

Voice 2 

Experts believe that people are also killing the Monarch’s living spaces in the United States and Canada. Milkweed plants are very important throughout the life of the Monarch butterfly. Female butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. When the eggs open, the young caterpillars eat the milkweed leaves.  After the caterpillars change into butterflies, the adult butterflies feed on the flowers of the milkweed plant.

Voice 1 

But in the last 20 years, milkweed in the United States and Canada has greatly decreased. There may not be enough milkweed for the Monarchs to use. One way people destroy milkweed is through land development. People destroy many natural places in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. They turn these natural spaces into houses, stores, and roads.

Voice 2 

Milkweed is also disappearing from farms. Farmers usually try to get rid of weeds – plants they do not want. This includes milkweed. In the past, there has still been enough milkweed for butterflies to use. But recently, farmers have been using stronger ways of controlling weeds.

Voice 1 

They use a weed killer called Roundup. It is made of strong chemicals that kill weeds. The makers of Roundup also produce seeds. These seeds are genetically modified – their genes are different from normal crops. Farmers can plant these special crops, and then spread Roundup on them. The Roundup does not kill the crops. But it kills every weed. Along with the other weeds, Roundup kills milkweed. The study suggests that the use of genetically modified crops may be one cause of the lack of milkweed.

Voice 2 

Robert G. Hartzler studies how people use science and technology to produce food. In a recent study, he looked at the amount of milkweed plants on farms in the states in the middle of the US. He looked at ten years worth of information – from 1999 to 2009. He found that during this time, the amount of milkweed plants on farms in the state of Iowa decreased by 90%! But this is not just a problem in Iowa. Dr Taylor told the New York Times:

Voice 4 

“This milkweed has disappeared from at least 400,000 square kilometers of these row crops like soybeans and corn. The milkweed is basically gone.”

Voice 1 

Many butterfly experts believe people must continue working to save Monarch butterflies. The group Monarch Watch works to stop the decrease of Monarchs. They suggest that people living near Monarch paths can do one very easy thing. They can plant milkweed wherever they can. Dr Taylor says that Monarch butterflies need all the help they can get. He told the Kansas City Star newspaper:

Voice 4 

“Monarch Watch is a program with no end in sight. If we are going to save this butterfly migration, we need to have a lot of people helping us.”

Voice 2 

This is true for saving butterflies all around the world. There are organizations, like Monarch Watch, that work to increase the butterfly population in many parts of the world. Are you interested in increasing the butterfly population in your area? You can find links to these international organizations on the script page of this program.  Maybe you can help save the butterflies in your area!

Voice 1 

The writer and producer of this program was Liz Waid. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the Internet at w w w radioenglish dot net. This program is called ‘Save The Butterflies’. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program.

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