The Monarch butterfly population status report was made public this week. Given last year’s perfect storm of bad conditions–late freeze, historic drought, raging wildfires–butterfly followers were expecting bad news. It was. Overall Monarch butterfly numbers were down 28%.
The much anticipated document issued each spring by the World Wildlife Fund assesses the overall health of the migrating population by calculating the physical space they occupy in the Oyamel fir forests of Michoacan, Mexico. This year, the millions of butterflies occupied a little more than seven acres. The average is almost 18 acres.
Monarch Watch, a Monarch butterfly monitoring program based at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, put a positive spin on the findings, tagging the report “relatively good news,” given dismal expectations. ”Nevertheless, this represents another low population – one well below the long term average near seven hectares,” the citizen scientist and academic collaborative reported.
The report was issued especially late this year, on March 15, an act that aggravated scientists and left others wondering why it took so long. ”The international scientific community is baffled why it took so long for WWF and others to release the colony data for the current overwintering season,” wrote renown Monarch butterfly scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower in an email to the DPLEX list, a butterfly listserv followed avidly by
butterfly enthusiasts and scientists. ”The long delay actually hampered research planning for important molecular studies by the scientific community.” Brower challenged WWF officials on the reasons for the decline, suggesting that while crazy weather and habitat loss tied to herbicide tolerant crops are factors, illegal logging and “severe degradation of the Oyamel forest ecosystem has been and still is occurring.”
Interestingly, a spokesperson for PROFEPA, the equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency in Mexico, said earlier this year that illegal logging at the roosting grounds had been contained to 3.7 acres.
The good news is that the butterflies have left their Mexican roosts and are coming our way. Reports from Twitter, Facebook and butterfly listservs detail FOS (first of season) sightings of the migrating butterflies flitting through Texas, laying eggs on native and tropical milkweed plants, delighting gardeners and butterfly fans.
Kip Kiphart, a volunteer for the Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project at Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne reported via email that he found 27 eggs on his native milkweed plants in Bergheim, Texas this week. Others chimed in: “Saw two in my yard in southwest Austin,” said Helen Boudny Fremin. “We’ve had a couple in Marathon this past week,” reported Mathew York. ”Pretty sure I saw a Monarch butterfly yesterday,” tweeted Mike Leggett, an outdoor writer in Austin. Those migrating Monarchs presumably will visit San Antonio’s local colony over at the Museum Reach Milkweed Patch for some mixed company nectar sipping.
Texas has been called the “most important state” to the Monarch butterfly migration because of its strategic location between the roosting grounds and the milkweed beds and nectar prairies that serve as hosts and food sources for the famous insects. Millions of Monarchs pass through Texas each spring and fall as they make their multi-generation migratory flight from the Mexico to Canada and back. Spring in Texas is a critical time for the Monarchs, as they seek out milkweed plants–their host, and the only plant on which they will lay eggs–to continue their multi generation migration north.
With our exceptional and well-timed South Texas rains this winter, the Monarchs will have plenty of wildflowers for nectar and milkweed for reproducing. Time to plant more milkweed in our gardens to get the migration off to a good start.Like what you’re reading? Don’t miss a single post from the Texas Butterfly Ranch. Sign up for email delivery in the right navigation bar on this page, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, @monikam.