Saturday, February 27, 2016

Monarch Population Numbers Are In!

And great news...

Population numbers are up!!!

Graph of area covered by the Monarch overwintering population in Mexico
graph by WWF
The Monarch butterfly is known for its great migration across North America. They overwinter only in certain locations in Mexico and California, and when they fly North to breed, it takes several generations before their great-great-grandchildren fly back south to overwinter in the same spots.

Monarch migration paths shown by the USDA
Monarch population numbers have been so low the past couple of years that we were in serious danger of losing this great migration.  The Monarch butterfly population plummeted due to several factors: severe winters at their overwintering sites, illegal deforestation of their overwintering sites, and the sharp drop in the amount of their larval food of milkweed along their migration path. 

Monarch butterfly
With the rise of corn prices, due in part to the government mandate of adding ethanol to gasoline, millions of acres of grasslands that make up part of the Monarch breeding grounds have been converted to farmlands, and the majority of farms have switched to new varieties that are genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides.  The spraying of herbicides has eliminated the milkweed that used to sprout up in and around crops – and thus eliminated much of the breeding ground for Monarchs.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed
I know gardeners across America have been planting milkweed to help out the Monarch, and there is even a federal initiative to try to address this problem.  And it looks like all that milkweed planting might be making a difference, as the population totals have jumped!

graph from the Center for Biological Diversity
World Wildlife Mexico, in collaboration with SEMARNAT and CONANP and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR), announced yesterday that nine colonies of butterflies were found in Mexico with a total forest area occupied adding up to 4.01 hectares.  That is almost quadruple the 1.13 hectares occupied last winter, and considerably up from the shockingly low area of 0.67 hectares two winters ago.


graph of overwintering population in hectares
provided by Monarch Watch
Of course, the battle is not yet over.  The target is for the Monarch population to be able to sustain their average population of 6 hectares, a number large enough to withstand natural population fluctuations without dropping below the threshold for possible extinction.


Such good news for the Monarch butterflies of North America!

And now back to planting a little more milkweed...

19 comments:

  1. That is so encouraging!
    Good to know that efforts for change, are making a difference

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    1. It is great to get some good news about the population of a species for once! And so great to see that people can make a difference to help bring the migration back to what it should be.

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  2. Yes, I'm planting more Milkweed this year, too. It was fun to rescue and raise three caterpillars indoors in an aquarium last summer. I got to see them grow, pupate, and emerge up close and personal. Still more work to go to bring them back from the edge, but we're moving in the right direction!

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    1. How exciting! I've only seen one monarch in my garden here up North so far, but I hope we'll start seeing more!

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  3. This is good news! Last year I saw only a few monarchs in my garden. I have not had success with milkweed, but I am determined to try again in another area.

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    1. I've had good success with Rose Milkweed (aka Swamp Milkweed) in a wetter area and Butterfly weed in dry areas, though for both I amended the soil to give it some better drainage. It's so hard growing things in that clay, I know!

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  4. I was glad when I first read the news on Monarchs. It is a popular blog subject right now. I have been planting milkweed for years now, not in my tiny garden, but in the parks near my home. I have been getting many monarchs these last two years. I noticed the numbers increase in the last couple of years and I do believe it has to do with so many people and organizations raising Monarchs for release. I am certain that is the reason in our region.

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    1. I agree that, much like with the Bluebird, a grassroots effort by gardeners and local organizations is really helping to increase the number. I didn't know that so many were raising and releasing Monarchs. Maybe that's what we need here! So far I've only seen one monarch in my garden up here in the North, but I hope to see more in the coming years.

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  5. Wonderful news! I tried planting milkweed seeds last fall instead of waiting till spring as I've done in the past, so I hope that may do the trick, and I'll finally have some milkweed in my garden. I really think this is a case where publicity and educating the public has really helped. Who doesn't love Monarchs?!

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    1. I wintersow Milkweed, which seems to work well as so many of them need that cold period. Hopefully you'll get lots this spring!

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  6. HOORAY!! I add more milkweed every year and am hoping to see more monarchs this summer/fall. I usually have a few every year.

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    1. I used to get a lot when I lived down South but have only seen one so far in my current garden. I have lots of milkweed waiting, though!

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  7. That is excellent news! Here's to you getting more this year! Thanks for visiting, you have a sweet little blog here.xxx

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  8. Now we need to support them in our gardens..

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    1. I think the number of monarchs are increasing because so many people are, which is such a great thing!

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  9. Hello dearest friend.
    Very interesting post. Waiting for the arrival of spring.
    Kisses and greetings.

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  10. Very happy to hear this news....I await their arrival in a few months.

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  11. Fantastic news!

    I've only got one Asclepias incarnata in my garden. (Well, planted three in the autumn of 2014, only one survived to bloom last year after they all get attacked by deer and/or rabbits.)

    I scattered A. viridis seeds last autumn and hope to add some more potted Asclepias (A. purpurascens and maybe A. tuberosa, though I'm worried how it will fare on my heavy clay soil)

    Thanks for this hopeful, uplifting post :)

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