Mon­archs are dis­ap­pear­ing, but you can help with a wild­flower gar­den

The Progress-Index - At Home - - GARDENING - By Melissa Erick­son

Scott Hoffman Black grew up in Ne­braska. He re­mem­bers play­ing out­side as a child and see­ing hun­dreds of monarch but­ter­flies in the sum­mer sky. On his last visit back with his two chil­dren, only a few of the eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able or­ange, black and white but­ter­flies could be seen flit­ting around.

In dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing, the monarch but­ter­fly needs your help.

Black, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Xerces So­ci­ety for In­ver­te­brate Con­ser­va­tion, is part of a multi­na­tional ef­fort to re­verse this trend.

“There is hope. If we all work to­gether, we can re­cover this but­ter­fly,” he said.

What hap­pened

Once com­mon all over the Amer­i­cas, mon­archs — weigh­ing less than a fifth of an ounce with a wingspan of about 4 inches — have ex­pe­ri­enced a pop­u­la­tion decline of over 80 per­cent, Black said.

Th­ese spec­tac­u­lar mi­grants travel an in­cred­i­ble 3,000 miles to spend the cold months of the year in the high moun­tains of Mex­ico and wood­lands of Cal­i­for­nia, where sci­en­tists count their num­bers.

“Last win­ter there were 56.5 mil­lion mon­archs, down from a bil­lion mon­archs in the mid-1990s. This rep­re­sents a pop­u­la­tion decline of 82 per­cent from the 20-year av­er­age — and a decline of 95 per­cent from the pop­u­la­tion highs in the mid-1990s,” said Tierra R. Curry, se­nior sci­en­tist at the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity. This year’s pop­u­la­tion, the sec­ond-low­est count ever since the cen­sus be­gan in 1993, was ex­pected to be much larger due to nearly per­fect cli­mate con­di­tions dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son, she added.

Mon­archs mat­ter and “should be saved be­cause they are a beau­ti­ful, familiar backyard species that have been part of the child­hood of ev­ery gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans up un­til now,” Curry said. Mon­archs are found in ev­ery state but Alaska, and mil­lions of chil­dren have learned about meta­mor­pho­sis by watch­ing mon­archs trans­form, she said.

“The decline of this once very com­mon backyard species is an in­di­ca­tor of how much harm we have done to the en­vi­ron­ment in the past few decades with pes­ti­cide use and sprawl,” Curry said. “We must do a bet­ter job of tak­ing care of na­ture or we are at very real risk of los­ing even com­mon species to ex­tinc­tion.”

A for­mal legal pe­ti­tion seek­ing to pro­tect the monarch as a threat­ened species un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act was filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and is now un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

How you can help

The state in­sect of Alabama, Illi­nois, Idaho and Texas and state but­ter­fly of Min­nesota, Ver­mont and West Vir­ginia, the monarch is the vic­tim of in­sec­ti­cides and agri­cul­tural her­bi­cides that have dec­i­mated na­tive-grow­ing milk­weed. Monarch lar­vae ap­pear to feed ex­clu­sively on milk­weeds, mak­ing it vi­tal to the mon­archs’ re­cov­ery.

“Sprawl has wiped out nat­u­ral ar­eas and farm fields that once sup­ported milk­weeds and other flow­ers that mon­archs need. Cli­mate change has led to in­creased se­vere storm events in sum­mer and win­ter, which kill large num­bers of mon­archs, and has in­creased drought, which kills milk­weed,” Curry said.

While their habi­tat is dwin­dling, you can help by plant­ing flow­ers. All but­ter­flies use nec­tar for food. Also, plant milk­weeds that are na­tive to the re­gion where you live and make sure that your gar­den plants have not been treated with in­sec­ti­cides.

“Gar­den plants that say they are re­sis­tant to aphids have been treated with pes­ti­cides and can harm mon­archs. It is very im­por­tant to only buy plants and seeds that haven’t been treated with pes­ti­cides, or peo­ple could accidentally kill the pol­li­na­tors they are try­ing to help save,” Curry said.

“Make your yard a mecca for the monarch by plant­ing a buf­fet of flow­ers and milk­weed,” Black said. “It doesn’t have to be all na­tive plants, but na­tive plants are the best.”

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