Thursday, July 18, 2013

Where are the Monarch Butterflies??

So few this year.... :(
If you've been following the Maily at all then you probably know that I'm a giNORmous fan of the monarch butterfly. Every year I devote my summertime to rearing monarch caterpillars and I've been doing this for a big chunk of my life.

As a small child I'd often tag along with a neighbor and her daughter as they searched the area's empty lots for monarch eggs and larvae. Anything found was brought home on stalks of fleshy milkweed which were then put in jars of water, and I visited that neighbor's house every day to watch and help with their progress. My mom learned to raise monarchs at that time, too (from the same neighbor), and so I began observing the process in my own house. Eventually I shared it with my daughters when they were small, and now I share it with my grandbugs. (I will share what I do with you, too, if you'd like.)

Behold: my kitchen during past butterfly seasons.
At its zenith, my caterpillar-raising efforts yielded over 300 butterflies in a single season (I don't recommend this unless you have a more efficient way of raising them than I do). But since then, my numbers have fallen consistently and dramatically. This year, especially, it's crazy rare to see a monarch here at all. I've only seen three so far this season and, according to what I've gleaned from a local news station, I'm pretty dang lucky to have seen even one.

One! I can remember when they were as plentiful as honeybees! Oh wait.... Those are disappearing, too....

That's a big 'holy wow' to me....

This year the monarch's plight is even more serious than usual. Environmental nonsense, climate change horrors, far fewer areas of milkweed due to human interference and building development, weird weather patterns that have prevented those few areas of milkweed from maturing when they were needed most -- all have contributed to a season of severe monarch loss.

Are these about to be a thing of the past??
When that same local news station shared this video about the decline of the Monarch population (click to see it HERE), I thought, "Now people will know how serious and important this is!"

But are we in time, I wonder?

The midwestern states are the feeding/breeding ground for the monarchs. Over the years, herbicide-tolerant farm crops have been steadily wiping out a big chunk of their food supply (milkweed is ALL the caterpillars will feed on). And this year's bizarre weather patterns along their flight path has put a big crimp in the tail of the monarch's cycle. It takes multiple generations of butterflies to make the trip from Mexico to here and back again; what happens if we lose a generation, I wonder?....

So you can imagine the emotional rollercoaster I rode recently when I got up close and personal to my own stand of fragrant garden milkweed and saw not only evidence of monarch caterpillar munchings but also evidence of predator attention.
This fills me with hope! :)


But things eventually took a better turn: With much careful hunting with bifocals and magnifying lens I discovered not just one but TWO tiny monarch caterpillars. Two's not 300, I know, but I'll take it!

And if the three little eggs that my dad and I found on his stand of milkweed hatch, and if all remain healthy and fledge with success, I'll be over-the-moon happy with a seasonal total of five butterflies.


Keep your wings crossed.

P.S.: I recently noticed that the 'comments' ability on my blog is functional again. I didn't reactivate it on purpose, so I'm thinking that the Universe is trying to tell me something. That being said, if you're at all interested, I'd be happy to share with you what I personally do to raise monarch caterpillars. Just comment and I'll share, 'k? :)

ALSO: Monarch Watch is a GREAT online site for learning more. There you will find information about milkweed and where you can buy it, learn how to rear caterpillars and how to create a monarch waystation habitat, what you can do to help the monarchs, and MUCH MORE. Please check it out!

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