The leaning tower of butterflies: Mass of Monarchs in Mexico makes the heart flutter with joy
- Colony numbers double a year after storm devastated population
Their numbers were devastated a year ago when severe storms hit their colonies.
But now the Monarch butterfly has made a spectacular comeback having more than DOUBLED in size this winter.
Despite the growth, however, the migrating insect remains under threat.
Millions of butterflies make a 2,000-mile journey each year from Canada to winter in central Mexico's warmer weather but the size of that migration can vary wildly.
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Making a comeback: This colony of Monarch butterflies, pictured congregating on a tree in the Pedro Herrada sanctuary on a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan, has doubled in size
Fewer of the orange and black insects arrived in Mexico last year than ever before, researchers said, but the butterfly colonies increased by 109 per cent this year to cover roughly 10 acres of forest.
Researchers estimate the size of the butterfly colonies based on the area they occupy in a forest.
'Certainly this is good news and indicates a recovering trend,' said Omar Vidal, director of the Mexico branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Communal creatures: The butterflies, resting on a bush, remain under threat after their numbers were decimated last year
But while the monarch colonies rebounded this winter, it is still the fourth-lowest year for the butterfly since researchers started census-taking in 1993.
Illegal loggers have picked away roughly 3 percent of a 138,000 acre reserve since it was created in 2000 but officials say they now have that illicit harvest under control.
Severe winter weather linked to climate change is more of a long-term threat, along with large-scale farming that crowds out the milkweed that the butterflies dine on during their cross-continental flight.
One for all and all for one: The Monarchs emigrate 2,000 miles to Mexico to winter in the warmer climate
'The caterpillars feed on milkweed so changing soil use in the United States and Canada is definitely having an impact on the butterflies,' said Vidal, who helps manage the authoritative study on monarch populations in Mexico.
Michoacan state is home to the country's monarch butterfly reserve as well as many violent drug gangs that have carved smuggling routes through the often-arid terrain.
While the government is confronting drug gangs on many fronts, smugglers are not inhibiting conservation work, one official said.
Fresh foliage:A file photograph from 2009 shows the Monarch butterflies gathering on a tree branch at the reserve
'We are being a bit more careful but have not had any security incident to date,' said Humberto Gabriel Reyes, who oversees the butterfly reserve for the federal commission for protected areas.
While the uptick in butterfly numbers is heartening, U.S. researcher Lincoln Brower said the insects are still susceptible to harsh conditions.
'The weather conditions we saw last year were among our worst-case scenario,' said Brower, 79, of Sweet Briar College in Virginia who has studied the monarch butterflies since the 1950s.
'If there were more harsh weather in Texas or more forest loss in the Mexican reserves, the butterflies could be tested even more severely,' said Brower who was one of the first researchers to see the Mexican overwinter sites after they were identified by scientists in 1975.
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