How Can You Help?
The Plight of the Monarch Butterfly
The eastern monarch population is declining. The factors contributing to this decline are many.
Monarchs require suitable habitat that provides host plants for breeding and flowering plants to provide nectar for adults.
Loss of milkweed means the loss of breeding habitat. Milkweed is the Monarch's only food source.
GMO (glyphosate-tolerant) crops planted in prime migration routes are eliminating formerly wild milkweed. Commonly known as “Roundup™ Ready”, these corn and soy crops are genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide that kills everything other than the resistant crop, including milkweed.
Harsher winters in monarch overwintering sites have caused larger than usual die-offs, and erratic weather may also delay the emergence of milkweed in spring and change the bloom time of flowering plants that provide resources to migrating monarchs.
Legal and illegal logging in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico where eastern monarchs overwinter has removed important winter cover for the species and impacted microclimates that protect the butterflies from extreme cold and precipitation.
Excessive development in California where western monarchs over winter has caused loss of habitat.
Fragmented landscapes are resulting in less habitat for monarchs, pollinators and the wildlife that share the same space. This trend will surely continue…unless we step up and do something about it.
(adapted from xerces.org/monarchs and monarchwatch.org)
How Can You Help?
Since loss of habitat is central to the decline on the monarch, we can all help by creating a safe space for monarchs to breed and nectar. (For more extensive “how-to’s on how to create a monarch garden, see Gardening with Butterflies in Mind… )
Monarchs require milkweed for reproduction and food, so any monarch habitat should include milkweed. It’s best to plant milkweed that’s native to your area, so that it dies back at the appropriate time. (Tropical milkweed continues to bloom into the fall when monarchs should be on their way to overwintering grounds.)
Nectar plants include flowers, trees—even what we consider “weeds”. Flowers with an open face provide optimal support for a nectaring butterfly. Because monarchs require a steady food source during their southward migration in the fall, it’s important to plant autumn-blooming varieties like asters and goldenrod.
Do not use pesticides or herbicides in your garden. When purchasing your plants, be aware of any topical or systemic pesticides that have been used on them. It’s usually safest to buy your plants from an organic nursery as many big-box stores sell plants that have been treated with chemicals which will kill pollinators and their larvae.
Visit monarchwatch.org and certify your garden as a Monarch Waystation once you’ve established your monarch-friendly garden. It's a very easy process. OR contact firstname.lastname@example.org and a master gardener will visit you and discuss the "how to's" of certification.
The Monarch Waystation program began in the spring of 2005. The program began slowly with only 395 habitats (sites) added to the registry in 2005. The number of habitats added through 2012 remained modest and averaged only 823 per year. However, beginning in 2013, as the extent of the monarch decline became more widely known, the number registered per year jumped rapidly. In 2016, 2869 habitats were added to the Monarch Waystation Registry.
An interactive map and complete listing of habitats that have been registered as Monarch Waystations can be found via the Monarch Waystation Registry (monarchwatch.org/waystations/registry/). The map allows you to zoom in to specific cities or regions and view approximate locations of Waystations in your area. Since Monarch Waystations are mapped only by zip code (for privacy), the number of sites in specific areas are likely to be under-represented (i.e., a single map point may represent several nearby habitats).
Here is a current screenshot of the map:
The breakdown of Waystations by state is as follows:
One of the goals of the BTG’s Monarch Moments and Butterflies & Blooms programs is to promote the certification of Monarch Waystations throughout Chautauqua Institution and the surrounding area. Our hope is that homeowners will follow the lead of the BTG and Chautauqua’s Department of Gardens and Landscapes by establishing Waystations on their property. No garden is too small—even container gardens can constitute a Waystation!
Monarch Population Surprises
by Chip Taylor, Ph.D., Founder and Director of Monarch Watch; Professor Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Those of us who are educators, and who follow monarchs closely, are being educated by the monarchs themselves this spring. The movement and behavior of monarchs returning from Mexico has been unprecedented. I’ll save the details for a longer Status of the Population that will be posted online at a later date but for the purpose of making the point of how the monarchs are schooling us, I’ll briefly summarize the important points here.
The overwintering population was just 2.91 hectares. That’s a relatively small population. Yet, more returning monarchs have been reported this spring than for any previous overwintering population including many that were much larger.
Monarch “Calendar” Citizen Science Project Through Monarch Watch
Monarch Watch recently launched a new citizen science project to assemble quantitative data on monarch numbers at critical times during the breeding season. The data from these observations will be used to assess their value in predicting trends in the population.
As of mid-May, 2017, Monarch Watch has had more than 1,000 participants register for the project, and many have begun recording their monarch sightings. If you would like to participate this year, please visit the link below for complete details and a link to the short registration form.