Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Monarch Update

Let's all take a moment for some good news!  

Too often environmental work is all gloom and doom.  Today we thank everyone for all the hard work, milkweed planting, caterpillar rearing, fall tagging and public education efforts on behalf of America's best known butterfly, the Monarch. A little congratulations is due.

Monarch in Richland County, Ohio
When it was first reported in the 1990's that the migratory Monarch was headed for trouble, we hardly believed it.  After all, they were so... common.  Sixteen years later, there was an entire summer in which I did not see one Monarch. Didn't we all wish we had taken more photos of them when they were abundant?

We stopped taking them for granted. In fact, many organizations rallied around the Monarch, calling for change.
Monarchs headed to Mexico roost at Whiskey Island, Cleveland Ohio.
Photo by Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr.
Keeping tabs on a butterfly population is difficult work. Winter is the best time to assess Monarch populations,  The winged ones gather in the Oyamel firs in the mountains of Mexico, where the entire migratory population can be counted as they rest.

This year's news from Mexico is finally good.  The numbers of wintering monarchs is at a five year high. But one good year means very little in insect biology.  We can't afford to stop now,  the job is not done.

A full report can be found at http://monarchjointventure.org/news-events/news/population-numbers-for-eastern-monarchs-increase-during-2015-16-season.

These striped caterpillars are the larva form of the Monarch butterfly.
Monarch conservation is rather complicated. They have four distinct life stages ( egg, larva, pupa, adult) and each stage has its own hazards. They are impacted by insecticides and herbicides.  Lawn care chemicals and mosquito sprays also put the smack down on them. They are subject to winds and weather.  These critters cross two international borders, in spite of walls and guards.

The effort across the borders to protect wintering habitats, and plant milkweed has certainly been key to their rebound.

A native bee pollinates this Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa.
Our efforts on behalf of the Monarch are likely to pay off for all pollinators. Increasing milkweed and other native plants along roadside corridors and in natural areas could benefit all types of insects. As we continue to improve conditions for Monarchs, let's also remember to limit the other activities which endanger them.  Lawn chemicals and excess mowing have become a way of life for suburbanites, but they are not compatible with our natural world.  We have seen the true cost.

We need to turn the pages of time back only to the fifties, where ditches were filled with flowers and milkweed reigned.  Children still played outside and bees buzzed as the butterflies bounced from flower to flower.  We chased lightening bugs at night.

Technology is great, but we need to decide if our chemically enhanced lifestyle is compatible to the health of the world in which we need to live.  The insects have been trying to tell us something.

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