A few days ago, I watched the TV documentary based on Sue Halpern's book Four Wings and a Prayer. (If you're in the UK, you can still see the programme up until Sunday). The programme follows the migration of the Monarch butterflies from Canada and the USA into Mexico and back again. The migration of these butterflies is one of the most iconic natural spectacles, specially as the monarch is the only insect that migrates like a bird in this way.
The film focussed on the overwintering grounds in Mexico, which are threatened by illegal logging. Along the way, the film crew meet up with a lot of the academic and citizen scientists who have been instrumental in exploring the mysteries of the migration, along with Homero Aridjis, the 'poet laureate of monarch butterflies', who has done a lot to try to get their overwintering forests protected.They also show the celebrations that Mexican people make when the butterflies arrive (co-inciding with the Day of the Dead - traditionally the people living near the wintering grounds believe that the monarchs are the souls of the recently deceased)
Once I had seen the documentary, I wanted to read the book immediately. The book goes into a lot more detail of the science behind the migration and spends more time with individual scientists, including exploring the rivalries and tensions that are probably commonly found in any group of professionals. The book also is a very personal document, Halpern outlines how her own fascination with Monarchs began and how she shares her fascination with her family.It's an engaging, interesting and important book.
The book was written in 2001 and so is out of date. Given that the documentary is based directly on the book, then it too is probably out of date in its focus, despite being itself quite a new production. So both book and documentary focus on the threats to the monarch being such that the migration risks coming to an end, but this is different from the potential extinction of a species (there being populations of Monarch butterflies that aren't involved in the migration to Mexico).
However, more recently it seems that populations of Monarchs across the USA are declining. According to this article on Myrmecos numbers of Monarchs this year have sunk to perilous levels. The article admits that the reasons aren't clear, but probably include loss of areas of milkweed (the monarchs' favoured plant) and pesticide use.
Monarch Watch is campaigning to Bring Back the Monarchs.
Michelle over at Rambling Woods (home of Nature Notes) blogs about monarch butterflies and how we can help them.
Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern is published by Weidenfield and Nicholson in the UK, originally published by Random House.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that ake you to other webpages where you can find out more.