As of writing this blog on August 9, 2016, I have only seen three monarch butterflies. It seems year after year I encounter fewer and fewer monarchs. But don't take my word alone. According to Monarch Watch with the University of Kansas, the evidence is clear: Monarch overwintering populations have steadily decreased since record keeping began in 1994.
During the winter of 2013-2014 the total area occupied by monarch colonies as overwintering sites in Mexico was the lowest ever at 0.67 hectares (1.66 acres). Compare that to 18.9 ha (46.7 acres) recorded during the winter of 1996-1997 and you can grasp the drastic change in Monarch butterfly populations.
Overwintering population data gathered by World Wildlife Fund Mexico in collaboration with SEMARNAT and CONANP and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR).
This past winter of 2015-2016 saw an increase in monarch overwintering populations at 4.01 hectares (9.91 acres). Tragically, a freak winter storm hit Mexico as the Monarchs were preparing for their migration north. El Rosario, the site containing the largest group of overwintering monarchs, is estimated to have lost 50% of the monarchs there. The impact of this storm means we started the 2016 growing season with a low first generation, which has made it difficult for future generations to move north and east.
Photo by Dr. Isabel Ramirez Sierra Chincua Sanctuary Friday, March 11, 2016.
Leading monarch researcher Chip Taylor's analysis of monarch reports from this year "suggests that the largest numbers of monarchs will be produced from the eastern Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, southern Wisconsin and Michigan, northern Illinois with lower production as one moves eastward from Illinois."
The 2016 fall migration of monarchs is predicted to be quite small.
What Can You Do to Help?
While this news is quite grim, there is hope. Hope in all of us to play a part in creating habitat for monarch butterflies. There are only two essential needs of the monarch butterfly you can incorporate into your landscape: milkweed and nectar plants.
Milkweed is the only larval food source for the monarch caterpillar; therefore, it's reintroduction in your landscape is critical to the monarch's survival.
The adult monarch butterfly receives nourishment from the nectar in flowers. By providing nectar sources through a continuously blooming garden, you will support monarch butterflies during the entire growing season and supply a critical food source during migration in the fall.
Once you have these valuable plants in your landscape, consider certifying your property as a Monarch Waystation through MonarchWatch.org. University of Illinois Extension is partnering with several local organizations to make West-Central Illinois the Waystation Capital of North America.
Celebrate With Us!
Saturday, September 10 will mark our 2nd annual Monarch Migration Festival. This festival is an event for the whole family. During the festival, you can meet with native plant nursery owners, a Pheasants Forever biologist, beekeepers, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Ag in the Classroom, and many others. Kids can build monarch rearing cages, insect hotels, tour the Ms. MariPosa bus, tag a butterfly to track it's flight to Mexico, and much more. Tour Galesburg's Nature Center and Prairie while enjoying a butterfly pork chop from Pork Producers. The festival begins at 10 AM and will close at 2 PM. At the end of the festival, children can participate in a mass release of monarch butterflies.
We hope the monarch butterfly's story will be one of success. But we need your help. Every small action can create change and turn around the plight of the monarch butterfly. Monarch butterflies are one of the most well-recognized species of wildlife out there. Everyone has grown up learning about the monarch. Let's make sure to preserve monarch butterflies for generations to come.
Illinois Master Gardener Rhonda Brady and Dr. Chip Taylor pose with Ms. MariPosa. A school bus converted into a monarch butterfly learning laboratory.
Additional resources and article references:
Monarch Watch website - http://monarchwatch.org/
Monarch Watch Blog by Chip Taylor - http://monarchwatch.org/blog/Monarch Migration News March 15 update by Elizabeth Howard, Journey North - http://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/spring2016/09/monarch-butterfly-migration031516.html#news