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CYCLIST FOLLOWS THE MIGRATING MONARCH BUTTERFLIES ON 10,000 MILE TOUR
Each spring, millions of monarchs leave the mountains of Central Mexico, where they survived the winter, to begin their annual migration north. This spring, they are accompanied by cyclist Sara Dykman (32) from Kansas who is biking 10,000 miles from the overwintering colonies in Mexico to Canada and back with the monarchs. Or as she would say “Butterbiking with the butterflies.”
Dykman’s goal is not only to follow the monarch migration, but to connect people living along the route with the migration. In order to do this she visits classrooms, wildlife refuges, and nature centers to talk about bike touring, the monarch migration and what we can do to help protect this endangered natural phenomenon. “It is so rewarding to connect my adventures to students,” said Dykman. “I want to show people how incredible the world is and be an example of what it means to follow your dreams and take care of the planet.”
These breaks and presentations are key to the success of Dykman’s adventure. “As much as I love biking, what I will remember most are the people that invite me in and the students that have hundreds of questions and can’t wait to hear more,” reflected Dykman. “They motivate me to keep moving.”
And keep moving she must. In order to follow the migration, Dykman must cover about 300 miles per week on a bicycle loaded down with everything she needs for life on the road. From camping equipment to presentation materials, her bike is heavy and she moves slowly follow the monarch migration while raising awareness about the importance of and threats to this iconic species. “The monarch migration is such an incredible migration,” boasted Dykman. “Not only are these iconic butterflies flying thousands of miles, but it is a multigenerational, multinational migration, and unless people on the route plant native nectar plants and milkweed in their gardens it is likely to go extinct.”
The eastern monarch populations have been in steady decline since counting began in the 90s. In 1996 monarchs covered 21 hectares of the Mexican Oyamel Fir Forest. By 2014 monarchs covered only 0.67 hectares. This drop, an 80% decline, can been attributed to habitat loss and climate change.
Adding to the conservation dilemma is the fact that monarchs call three countries home. Monarchs depend on Mexico, the United States, and Canada to work together to protect the migration. “The future of the monarch migration is in the hands of people from all three countries,” reported Dykman. “In Mexico, people need to protect the Oyamel Fir forest that the monarchs depend on to survive the winter, and in the United States and Canada, people need to plant milkweed.”
Milkweed is the only food source of the monarch caterpillars, and gives the monarchs the toxins they needs to be poisonous and avoid being eaten by most predators. Milkweed has been in a fast decline as industrial farming uses more broad-spectrum herbicides and land development encroaches on wild lands. Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas monarch education program, estimates that 6,000 acres of milkweed habitat are lost daily to development.
However there is some good news, because unlike many species that need untouched wilderness to thrive, monarchs simply need waystations, or gardens that have milkweed plants to lay their eggs and feed their caterpillars, as well as flowering plants that the monarchs and other pollinators can feed on the nectar. “Every garden adds up, and every garden is part of the solution,” Dykman emphasized. “Schools, city halls, churches, parks, farms, and neighborhoods are planting milkweed and native flowering plants to help save the migration.”
The efforts of so many people have made the monarch an iconic symbol of education, conservation, and team work. Unless people from Mexico, the United States, and Canada can work together to implement conservation strategies then the monarch migration will disappear from the planet. “I am biking to raise awareness and encourage people to plant native gardens with milkweed to be part of the solution and be part of the migration,” said Dykman. “The future of the monarch is in the hands of all of North Americans”
Follow Dykman’s videos, photos, blogs, and a daily progress map as she Butterbikes with the butterflies at www.beyondabook.org.