mon
by Michael dEstries
Categories: Animals, Causes, Environment, Science.

Last year, much to the elation of my three-year-old, I discovered three monarch caterpillars crawling on a milkweed plant in our wildflower garden. We quickly gathered them up, placed them in a large tank, and watched as they got fat, created a chrysalis, and eventually hatched out as butterflies. We then set them free – with a healthy education on the crazy-long, nearly 3,000 mile journey they were about to undertake to their overwinter forest in Mexico.

Yep, Monarchs are pretty darn awesome.

This year – nothing. Instead, we’ve had to settle for some milkweed tiger moths – which look like furry monarchs. All other searches on milkweed around our property came up fruitless; an unfortunate sign predicted back in March by conservation officials. From USA Today: 

“The alarm over disappearing monarchs intensified this spring when conservation organizations reported that the amount of Mexican forest the butterflies occupied was at its lowest in 20 years. The World Wildlife Fund, in partnership with a Mexican wireless company and Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas, found nine hibernating colonies occupied almost 3 acres during the 2012-13 winter, a 59% decrease from the previous winter.”

That’s a terrible number, and one that doesn’t happen often as represented in the graph below:

monarch-graph

So why are monarchs having a rough time of it while other species continue to thrive? Well, that whole amazing migration thing only works in their favor when certain conditions align – mainly, humans not screwing everything up. Guess what? We’re screwing things up. Mostly through illegal logging, farming, and favoring grass over milkweed. 

“We have a lot of habitat in this country but we are losing it at a rapid pace, Chip Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch, told Nature World News. ”Development is consuming 6,000 acres a day, a loss of 2.2 million acres per year. Further, the overuse of herbicides along roadsides and elsewhere is turning diverse areas that support monarchs, pollinators, and other wildlife into grass-filled landscapes that support few species.”

The easiest thing we can do to help the species increase its numbers is simply plant more milkweed – especially in those states that serve as nesting spots and feeding areas for generations of monarchs making their way north.

“It is important to have a national priority of planting milkweed to assure there will be monarchs in the future,” Craig Wilson, a senior research associate at Texas A&M University, said earlier this year. “If we could get several states to collaborate, we might be able to provide a ‘feeding’ corridor right up to Canada for the monarchs.”

[Need some seeds? MonarchWatch.org has a great list of suppliers here.]

So, have you seen any monarchs this summer?

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

About Michael dEstries

Michael has been blogging since 2005 on issues such as sustainability, renewable energy, philanthropy, and healthy living. He regularly contributes to a slew of publications, as well as consulting with companies looking to make an impact using the web and social media. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his family on an apple farm.

View all posts by Michael dEstries →
  • Jason Baker

    Haven’t seen one monarch butterfly. Since the fourth grade (nearly 30 years ago) I have always gathered monarch caterpillars and watched the most amazing transformation year after year and it never got boring. I am very sad and concerned after reading your post. J. Baker, Spencer NY

  • Philip Paulson

    I’ve only seen a handful this year…as a child I used to go out every summer and gather caterpillars to raise and release. For whatever the reason, the area I live in now has plenty of milkweed in the ditches, but many searches we’re fruitless…then a few years ago we found a spot along the shores of Lake Michigan that had a nice habitat and plenty of Monarch caterpillars. Every year now, I take my children out and we gather as many as we can find to rear and release. We went out today and we didn’t find anything. I find this to be very alarming…I’m considering planting a milkweed habitat in our backyard for next year, but I have to find out what the city has to say…if it’s considered a noxious weed or not. My wife thought that since this has been an odd summer, that it’s possible that they are behind…when I was a kid, you could find them during July and August without any problems…but lately…not so much. I’m going to look at ordering some online this week so we can try to help out the population as much as possible…

  • Lisa

    I am a native plant enthusiast and I have a native garden with lots of butterflyweed and common milkweed. I have done a native restoration at a Nature Conservancy office- have seen NO caterpillars this year at either place and have seen but a handful of adult monarchs. Very distressing indeed. The adults visited the blossoming joe pyeweed.