As monarch butterflies journey north, gardeners can help protect species, researcher says

May 10, 2010

It has been a hard winter for Monarch butterflies, according to Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. Taylor said that low temperatures, storms and habitat destruction have all threatened the butterflies' overwintering population in Mexico.

"I spend a lot of time fretting over the status of the monarch population and I'm always searching for factors or data that will help me understand the past as a way of predicting the future trends in monarch numbers," Taylor said.

As the butterflies migrate through Texas and continue northward across the Great Plains this spring, Taylor has poured over data from a network of monarch observers, hoping to gauge the well-being of the butterflies. But he said it is difficult to pin down their numbers with precision.

"This returning population has been most unique," Taylor said. "The data clearly shows that monarchs were limited to Texas this spring more than in any of the previous ten years. What does this mean? Was the dispersal of monarchs limited this spring because of the lower than average temperatures or because the population is low or some combination of both? The answer is probably the latter — a combination of low numbers of returning monarchs and lower temperatures."

Nonetheless, Taylor said that data on the butterflies "is not all doom and gloom."

"The conditions for growth in the monarch population in Texas have been exceptionally favorable the last two months," Taylor said. "The temperatures have been moderate and due to adequate soil moisture, the milkweeds and nectar sources have been abundant. In addition, the have been scarce having not recovered from the prolonged drought of last year. So, small population or not, the monarchs should be off to a good start."

The Monarch Watch director said that the health of butterfly population would be determined by the number of first-generation monarchs that come north out of Texas over the next six weeks and throughout the northern breeding range over the remainder of the summer. Depending on these factors, the number of monarchs could stay steady, decline or increase compared to last year.

But gardeners can help the by planting milkweed and other monarch-friendly plants, Taylor said.

"We need the public to pitch in to save the monarch migration," said Taylor. "Without an effort to protect monarch habitats and restore milkweeds, this incredible migration will slowly fade away."

Taylor encourages gardeners, homeowners, schools, governments and businesses to plant monarch "way stations" consisting of milkweeds and other butterfly plants, in hopes that the dedicated habitats will sustain a threatened population during its migration.

"The size of the overwintering population last year was 1.92 hectares and, with a modest increase this summer, the population might get back to this number," Taylor said. "If the conditions for the rest of the summer are highly favorable, a winter population of 4 hectares is possible — but that doesn't seem likely at this point. In any case, the winter population of 2010 is certain to be below the long-term average of 7.44 hectares."

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Provided by University of Kansas

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Monarchs fly south for the winter

Sep 12, 2005

As many as 300 million monarch butterflies are now flying south from Canada and the northern United States to winter in Mexico and Southern California.

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.