March 13, 2013

Bad News Again For Monarch Butterflies

Bad news again for the Monarch butterfly:  Drought conditions and historic wildfires the past few years continue to decrease their numbers as they wing across Texas this spring. Worse news: milkweed plants – the only kind they need to survive – are also not in plentiful supply, says a Texas A&M University Monarch watcher.

Craig Wilson holds a Monarch butterfly

Texas A&M butterfly expert Craig Wilson says Monarch numbers continue to decline

Craig Wilson, a senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education and a longtime butterfly enthusiast, says reports coming from Mexico where the Monarchs have their breeding grounds show their numbers are significantly down, a disturbing trend during much of the past decade.

“The severe drought in Texas and much of the Southwest continues to wreak havoc with the number of Monarchs,” Wilson explains.

“The conditions have been dry both here and in Mexico in recent years.  It takes four generations of the insects to make it all of the way up to Canada, and because of lack of milkweed along the way, a lot of them just don’t make it.”

The dry conditions and changing farming practices are hampering the growth of milkweed, the only type of plant the Monarch will digest as it makes its trip north.  Texas has had dozens of wildfires in the past few years that have hampered milkweed growth, and even though there are more than 30 types of milkweed (Asclepiadaceae) in the state, the numbers are not there to sustain the Monarchs as they start their 2,000-mile migration trip to Canada.  Increased use of pesticides is also adversely affecting milkweed production, he notes.

“But if people want to help, they can pick up some milkweed plants right now at local farmer’s cooperative stores,” he says, “and this would no doubt be a big boost to help in their migration journey.”

The Monarch reserves are in the Mexican state of Michoacan. It’s an area where tens of millions of Monarchs spend the winter and mate before heading north, Wilson points out.

a Monarch butterfly

Reports show Monarch numbers are down significantly. Photo: Shutterstock

“On a recent visit to the Monarch overwintering sites in Michoacan, former President Jimmy Carter said: ‘The Monarch butterfly unites the three countries of North America in peace. It is an ambassador of peace which requires protected areas and ecosystems that are preserved through sustainable agricultural and forestry practices. We need to work together to maintain a healthy and balanced ecosystem for all North America,” Wilson adds.

“It is important to have a national priority of planting milkweed to assure there will be Monarchs in the future,” Wilson believes. “If we could get several states to collaborate, we might be able to provide a ‘feeding’ corridor right up to Canada for the Monarchs.”

Wilson is currently adding a variety of milkweed plants to the existing Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden on the Texas A&M campus.  He recommends the following sites for Monarch followers: Journey North, Texas Monarch Watch and Monarch Watch.

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $700 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.

Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Craig Wilson at (979) 260-9442

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5 Comments to Bad News Again For Monarch Butterflies

  1. Oh, please. Drought? Milkweed is one of the most drought resistant plants out there. What it is not resistant to is Roundup. Monsanto is directly responsible for the decimation of the Monarch’s only food supply. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves for protecting a funding source in the face of *obvious* evidence that they are the source of the problem.

    Pesticides have almost nothing to do with it. Herbicides have *everything* to do with it.

  2. Mark McGee on March 13th, 2013
  3. In the article Craig Wilson says: “if people want to help, they can pick up some milkweed plants right now at local farmer’s cooperative stores,” he says, “and this would no doubt be a big boost to help in their migration journey.”

    But there are many tens of millions of monarchs out there and billions of wild milkweed plants that support that quantity of monarchs. So how is it conceivable that a few nursery purchased milkweeds are going to make more than a grain of sand on a beach positive impact on the wild monarch populations?

  4. Paul Cherubini on March 17th, 2013
  5. Just think though, if hundreds of thousands of people like you and me plant milkweed in our yards where it will be safe from pesticides and herbicides, and will be able to grow and multiply, then it only makes sense that the Monarchs will benefit largely from this. Milkweed, once planted, will come back year after year even after a freeze. So, I say, plant milkweed in your own little garden and reap the benefits of having beautiful Monarchs to watch knowing you are doing your part, big or small, to the continuity of these amazing creatures.

  6. lauren powell on March 20th, 2013
  7. Lauren Powell, it’s an elementary math type issue. Of the many billions of milkweed plants in the eastern USA, millions get permanently killed every year due to ongoing sprawl and the intensification of weed control practices on farms and along roadside in suburban areas. So even if 100,000 home gardeners plant milkweed it won’t change the overall rate of milkweed and monarch decline.

  8. Paul Cherubini on March 21st, 2013
  9. “Now, for the first time in its history, gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to make a difference.”
    – Doug Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home

    Sources for milkweed:
    http://www.xerces.org/milkweed/
    Project Milkweed
    Returning Essential Wildflowers to America’s Landscapes

    http://monarchwatch.org/milkweed/market/index.php?function=show_static_page&id_static_page=1&table_name=vendors
    Monarch Watch Milkweed Market
    http://www.MonarchWatch.org

  10. Mona Miller on March 26th, 2013
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