Disappearing Monarchs

You may have noticed that there is nothing to notice this year regarding Monarch Butterflies. You wouldn’t be the only one. Dozens of people across the county have been calling asking where the Monarchs are.

Some of the callers are farmers, some are gardeners and some are those who mow the median strips on the highways. All have noticed that the Monarch Butterflies that normally fill their fields at this time of year are absent.

Scientists watched in horror as the Monarch Butterfly population plunged almost 60 percent last year to the smallest number seen since researchers first found where they migrate to in 1975. The drop is due to a number of reasons, according to Dr. Chip Taylor of MonarchWatch.

Droughts in the Midwest and Texas, areas through which the Monarch Butterflies migrate to get to their wintering grounds in Mexico, created large areas with no food for the butterflies to eat. Increased demand for corn and soybeans to use as food and fuel has led to over 25 million more acres of land being planted with crops in this country. These crops have replaced the flowers that adult butterflies feed on as well as the milkweed that their eggs are laid on.

In fact, perhaps the most important thing that can be done to help the Monarch Butterflies is to plant milkweed. The Chautauqua Lake watershed is largely rural, and milkweed of various kinds tends to be abundant outside the towns and cities. However, milkweed has been kicked out of town in many places. It is mowed and sprayed until it can no longer survive in corners of yards and vacant lots. A few milkweed plants encouraged in a yard can help the Monarch Butterfly find more places to lay eggs.

In reality, roughly eight out of 10 of the Monarch caterpillars on milkweed will probably get eaten by other animals. Another good thing to help Monarchs is to raise caterpillars on milkweed indoors and let them go later. Chip Taylor’s site, www.monarchwatch.org, is a great site to learn how to find and recognize Monarch Caterpillars and raise them to adults.

Raising Monarchs and releasing them so that there are more eggs, more caterpillars and more adults in the area may be the only way to see many of them this year. Huge fields of milkweed, once filled with Monarch Butterflies, are now missing their most conspicuous and recognized butterfly.

The king is not dead, but may be fading fast. If a few people all raise a few butterflies, we may help restore the Monarchs to the prominence that they deserve throughout the watershed.

Jeff Tome is a senior naturalist for programs and exhibits at the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and former board director. He has been raising and watching Monarch Butterflies since he raised and released them at his wedding in 2005.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.