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Monarch Butterfly in Decline

Updated on September 22, 2014
Monarch | Source
Basic food source.
Basic food source. | Source

This past week some of the ladies at the bank who are also readers of our column asked me an important question. Where are the Monarch butterflies? It seems that I have seen fewer and fewer Monarchs over the past few years. At the end of the Monarchs journey at a woodland preserve in Mexico east of the Rockies over the past few years the Monarchs occupied most of the 50 acres which dropped to 2.94 acres last year. In population studies of the Monarchs this group also noted a 59% drop in the butterfly from last year, which were the third straight decline and the lowest year in 20 recorded years. One of the ladies at the bank has a friend that works near one of the parks on Lake Erie and said earlier this year that she would call her when the Monarch migration was on. This ladies friend called her back recently and said that the event was cancelled, because they hadn’t seen any. Now all of this I feel point to this decline in the Monarchs. The Lake Erie islands are an important funnel for this migration.

The Monarch individual that begins the migration up North does not make it all the way to Mexico and the Caribbean. This migration may be from two to four generations on its trip from the north to Mexico or there have been discovered that a few may overwinter in the Caribbean. There are a number of generations of Monarchs on this long journey as many as four. One of the great puzzles of the butterfly world is as the butterfly travels south and lays its eggs and dies the next generation knows how to get to the next stop without missing a beat. How does this happen? One of the ordeals that this butterfly faces on its trip south is that the habitat has nearly disappeared. We’ve lost from 120 million to 150 million acres from the use of herbicides has almost wiped out milkweed and its relatives, which is not just the primary source of food for the Monarch but the only source of food for the larvae. The genetically modified soybeans and corn have been engineered not to have problems with Roundup and the farmers are applying enough herbicides to wipe out milkweed in the critical parts of our American Midwest. Milkweed and its relatives are the solitary plants that the Monarch feeds. This alone is a challenge. It’s important to read the solution below.

The drought in Texas last year was serious and 2012 was the hottest year on record. Weather conditions can have a significant effect on the Monarchs, but as with most conditions like this they are only temporary. This heat down south has caused the Monarch eggs to dry and the nectar in the milkweed also reduced. These are also serious conditions but it also will pass.

One of the former issues that the Monarchs may have faced that did contribute to their decline was that the forest around this reserve has been extensively timbered. In Mexico our Monarchs perched on the trees that have been timbered out. In Mexico the lumber harvests have been slowed dramatically and that has reduced some of the Monarch challenges. But what does all of this mean to other species and should we look at the Monarch as the canary in the birdcage that is lowered down a coal shaft as this butterfly disappears? Question is does anyone really care to modify the way they do business and have a desire to protect a migration that has been around for a long time? I don’t know. Maybe the Monarch butterfly will go the way of the Passenger Pigeon.
Studies are saying that we all need to be setting aside space in our gardens and allow weeds like this Milkweed and their relatives have a chance to survive. If we don’t grow this plant, we may not see them much longer.

I hope that you have a good stroll through your garden this week and maybe think again in pulling that Milkweed out of your garden. If you have a challenge in your garden this week, e-mail me at or at You can also comment on my blog from the links you would find on my website Thank you again.


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