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Avocados Vs. Butterflies

Increased demand for avocados in the United States affects Monarch butterflies.

Several bright orange butterflies cover tree leaves and branches while hibernating. Some of the bright green tree leaves are visible.

Photo: Felix's Endless Journey (Flickr)

Monarch butterflies in hibernation.

Avocados are so delicious, and very trendy in the United States at the moment. It seems like everyone is taking photos of their avocado toast or finding interesting ways to incorporate the delicious berry (yes, avocados are actually fruit) into new and exciting recipes. Unfortunately, the increased demand for avocados could soon start affecting Monarch butterflies.

The Mexican state of Michoacán is a stop on the migration route for many monarchs. They rest in the state’s oyamel (fir) forests which have a buffer zone of oak and pine forests. Since the demand for avocados is getting higher, more farmers are planting avocado orchards, and cutting down those oak and pine forests in the process.

While the butterflies don’t roost in the oak and pine trees, those forests are necessary because they keep the area where the monarchs roost cooler. The air coming in from Michoacán’s western plains is warm; the oak and pine forests cool it down before it reaches the oyamel forest in the center.

The Just Right Forests

The oyamel forests are cool enough for the butterflies to stay in something called reproductive diapause: which means their reproductive organs are put on pause so they won’t mate or lay eggs in winter. But the trees also provide shelter from too much cold and protection from predators.

Why can’t the avocados be planted elsewhere, somewhere that won’t affect the Monarch butterflies? Because currently, Michoacán is the only state in Mexico authorized to sell and import avocados to the United States. For many, the incentives of selling avocados outweighs the potential damage to the butterfly population.

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