Reports that 22 million Monarch butterflies were killed by being sprayed with pesticide have been greatly exaggerated, according to the World Wildlife Fund and American Monarch researchers.

“It’s been overblown,” says Monica Missrie, Monarch butterfly coordinator for the WWF in Mexico City. “It was probably two or three million.”

Homero Aridjis, head of the environmental lobby Group of 100, told reporters he believed that loggers has sprayed the migration areas of the Monarchs with pesticides in order to reopen their sanctuary to logging.

But Missrie says the mass deaths of the Monarchs were due to cold, not pesticides. Recent heavy snowfalls in the area have been especially devastating to the delicate creatures. A similar cold snap in 1996 also killed millions of Monarchs.

“It can look like they were sprayed,” says Missrie, because the butterflies’ fat comes to the surface of their wings when they die, giving them an oily feel. The WWF has sent biologists into the field to collect samples and expect to confirm the cause of death within a few weeks.

We can be thankful that the Monarch sanctuary is safe for now, and that we will be seeing the winged beauties in our gardens this spring. The unseasonal snow is a warning to us however. Global warming, which causes weather extremes of this type, may cause the destruction of the migratory sanctuaries of many species, worldwide.

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