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Monarch butterflies could use your help - here's what you can do

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Monarch butterflies are suffering from population declines, according to some studies. The insect is one of the most iconic of all butterflies and is a sign of warm weather in many areas of the country. 

A report released in January 2014 showed the forest grounds in Central Mexico where the insects spend their winters shrunk to just 1.65 acres. That land area was reduced 44 percent from the previous year. This was the third straight year of decline in the territory. Since 1993, the size of the area has been monitored and recorded. The winter homes for the insects reached its greatest extent in 1996, when the butterflies spent the season on 45 acres. 

Butterfly experts blame warm temperatures in 2012, followed by a cold snap in the spring of 2013 for the most recent decrease in winter habitat. 

Monarch butterflies are attracted to milkweed, so to attract the beautiful insects to your yard, place the plant in areas around your yard. If milkweed is not native to your area, avoid planting the species in the ground, as it could become an invasive species. Instead, consider placing the milkweed in vessels, using container gardening to attract the butterflies. 

The insects lay their eggs on milkweed, and when the tiny eggs hatch, caterpillars walk along the plant as they eat. After about 14 days, the caterpillars form a cocoon and begin their transformation into the brightly-winged monarch. The insect spends 10 days developing the distinctive features that mark monarchs.  

"These milkweed varieties of butterflies come from the family of Danainae, a subfamily of Nymphalidae. People have seen this species in Australia and New Zealand since 1871, where they call it 'the wanderer,'" according to Monarch-butterfly.com. 

Milkweed comes in a wide range of different varieties, and monarch butterflies are fond of most species. 

Monarch butterflies migrate up to 3,000 miles in their seasonal travels each year, and they are the state insect in seven different states all around the country, from Vermont to Texas. The insect is so widespread throughout North America, a monarch butterfly is used as the emblem of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

On 19 February, Barack Obama, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada agreed to establish a task force charged with preserving monarch butterflies. 

If winter grounds continue to shrink in size, Monarchs could become more rare, as milkweeds also become less common. These distinctive orange insects could disappear. For now, milkweed is the best way to bring monarchs home to your yard.  

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