Traffic on Interstate 35 is about to get a lot … buggier.
That’s thanks to President Obama, newfound friend to imperiled pollinators everywhere, and his strategy for protecting the nation’s insects. Among the proposals is a plan to create a pollinator highway along the I-35 corridor, which extends from Mexico to Minnesota and follows a main route for the annual monarch butterfly migration.
The route won’t be indicated by road signs or traffic lights (butterflies see ultraviolet light, so they would probably be confused by the red light/green light distinction). Instead, it’ll be lined with milkweed and other habitat plants, providing refuge and a food source to monarchs on the move.
A designated monarch corridor is quite the coup for insects who won’t even be paying tolls. But an annual, multi-generation, 2,000-mile trip — each way! — can be a doozy. Especially if you’re only three inches long.
The average monarch has a pretty cushy life, as described by the Monarch Butterfly Fund. Born in summer, it’ll live for a few weeks, preoccupied only by its need to eat, grow and mate. But those who undertake the annual migration — the “supergeneration” — have no time for frittering around.
These are born in late summer or fall and must find a way to survive until the following spring, if they want to continue their species. In that time, they battle pesticides, predators and disappearing habitats to travel down to Mexico, spend a winter in the warmth, and then summon their remaining energy to fly back into the southern United States. There they lay eggs, usually on milkweed plants, giving birth to the first generation of summer butterflies, who complete the journey north and start a new yearly cycle. It’s no easy feat, and it’s getting more difficult — over the past 25 years, nearly a billion monarchs have vanished.
Meanwhile, scientists still don’t understand how they make their impressive journey in the first place: Do they follow the sun? Leave chemical markers on their way south that they then follow on the return trip? Are they smart enough to recognize distinguishing geographical landmarks? Regardless, they seem to know where they’re going — arguably more so than the average person on the road.
And though monarchs seem to have little in common with an I-35 commuter, the highway is actually an ideal way for them to get where they need to be. According to the White House strategy, highways are usually surrounded by low vegetation and lots of sun — perfect butterfly habitat. Its extensive north-south reach also makes it a perfect corridor for migration, whether in response to the changing seasons or as adaption to climate change.
Also included in the White House plan are $1.2 million for the Monarch Conservation Fund, a project of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and another $2 million for Fish and Wildlife Service habitat restoration and outreach.
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