Friday, October 3, 2014

Where have all the Monarchs gone?

One of the four Monarchs that visited my garden this year

Four Monarchs this year. Just four. In years gone by, I would have stepped outside and sighed in delight as a virtual cloud of them passed overhead. Orange wings, flashing in the sun. And me, on the ground, in awe at another one of God's incredible creations.

Now when I see just one, I stop whatever I'm doing and run to follow the lone straggler through my gardens. I watch him rise and fall on the Lantana, Butterfly bushes, and Milkweed. I will him to stay. To get his fill. To give him the strength to take wing again on the long journey to Mexico.

Monarch butterflies are one of God's most remarkable creations, annually traveling 3,000 miles from their breeding grounds in the north-central and eastern United States and Canada to their wintering grounds in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico.

Come spring, the Monarchs mate and begin their long journey north. Traveling only a short distance, each butterfly will live a mere four to eight weeks, laying eggs and passing on crucial genetic material to the next generation. This will continue until they finally reach their summer breeding grounds in the north.

In the fall, when daylight shortens, the Monarchs begin their southward trek. This time they will live up to nine months, traveling back to the same wintering grounds in Mexico that their great-great-great-great grandparents left that spring...amazing! 

So, where have all the Monarchs gone? 

Sadly, they haven't gone anywhere. They are dwindling in number due to habitat destruction and loss of food source.

Over the past 20 years, scientists have found that the average land occupied by Monarchs in Mexico has been about seven hectares (a hectare is about the size of half a football field). Last winter the Monarchs occupied only 0.67 hectares, about ten percent of the normal. 

Though Mexico has begun a protection program for their wintering grounds, the greater problem lies in the loss of habitat in the United States and Canada. 

Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on plants in the Milkweed family. Without these, there can be no future generations.

Increased spraying of herbicides and the elimination of marginal farmland on the edges of existing fields (and the Milkweed growing there) has proven detrimental to the Monarch's survival.

What can we do? Most of us aren't farmers, though we can rally for the use of safer farming practices. 

But we can plant a garden!  Or, if you already have one, make sure to include species native to your area, ones that will provide nectar for the adult butterflies. And Milkweed for the Monarch's larvae. 

Fall is a great time to plant. The cooler temperatures allow time for the plants to develop strong root systems, strengthening them for the next year's growing season. 

Below are some of my favorite Butterfly Garden plants...

12 Perennials That Butterflies Love

Include these in your garden and you, and the Monarchs, will be blessed!


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