The arrival of my Monarch tags last week summoned thoughts of crisp fall days chasing Monarch butterflies.   What will this year’s migration bring?  Will Central and South Texas witness parades of Monarchs on their way to the Mexican mountains?

Monarch tags

Monarch tags are here

It’s impossible to know for sure.  Monarch butterfly news this year has been mixed, but mostly glum.   The World Wildlife Fund declared in February that the population had doubled at the roosting sanctuaries since last year while pointing out in the same report that the numbers were the lowest since record-keeping began in 1993.
In its updated May report,  the WWF touted that deforestation tied to illegal logging in the Mexican roosting preserves had declined by 97% in 2010, compared to 2009.
That’s great, but wait: in the August 2  Monarch Watch butterfly population status report, Dr. Chip Taylor notes that because of the widespread adoption of herbicide tolerant crops, milkweed, the Monarch butterfly host plant, has been eliminated in 81% of its habitat in recent years. So even if the Monarchs roosted safely in Mexico, survived a brutal winter, faced a historic drought, and navigated raging wildfires, Round-Up ready crops have so decimated their naturally occurring host plant, that egg-laying sites are few and far between.
Monarch Watch confirmed the grim outlook in an innocent Facebook post on August 9:

So how does the monarch population look in your area? Let us know where you are and what you are seeing!

More than one hundred of Monarch Watch’s 6400+ fans responded. Frownie faces


punctuated the pessimistic replies,  which spanned the Eastern U.S.  and outnumbered positive retorts, 96 to 19.
Here’s a random sample:

  • “Slim pickings here in Ann Arbor, Michigan.” –Terri Czarney Fisher
  • “I haven’t seen more than five Monarchs.  The stand of milkweed in my garden and on public parks/land that I know about have barely been touched, no chewing evidence of cats. Definitely smaller numbers than last year.”–Cathy Millington, Morris County, New Jersey
  • “I’ve been rearing about half of what I normally would at this time.” –Anne Schmidt, Eastern Iowa
  • “Usually we would have had a couple generations by now.  I usually find 20 – 30 eggs to start and maybe one or two don’t make it.  So this year is not looking good.”–Abigail Meuinck, Mishawaka, Indiana

A few encouraging replies stood out.  Minnesota in particular boasted a promising Monarch population.

  • “There are Monarch eggs on paractically every single milkweed plant I look at! It’s more than I’ve ever seen.”–Aisling O’Sullivan, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • “There sems to be a lot of them this year.  I’ve got a dozen in jars eating away and another half dozen or so ready to be brought in so I can tag them.” Mary Tierney, Minneapolis, Minnesota

It’s too early for Monarchs here in Texas, although I spotted my FOS (first of season) at the milkweed patch on the San Antonio Riverwalk this weekend.  While Dr. Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, blogged August 2 that “there will still be plenty of monarchs to tag, ” this year, there’s no guarantee they will funnel through Central Texas.  Given our lack of nectar sources and inhospitable environs, they’re likely to take a coastal route like they did in 2009, where moisture has made blooms more plentiful.
It could all change overnight with the perfectly positioned tropical storm parked over the Texas Hill Country for a day.  Much needed rain, and soon, would give dormant nectar sources time to perk up and bloom.
Keep your fingers crossed.