Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Monarchs of the glen...and the garden...and the byways

For the last few years, the news about the Monarch butterfly has been unrelentingly bad. A disastrous series of bad winters in the mountains where the migrants spend that season in Mexico, coupled with habitat loss across North America and the profligate use of pesticides in farming operations in the heartland of America, had reduced the butterfly's numbers to dangerously low levels. Some wondered if the charismatic insect would ever be able to recover, or would it follow the path of the Passenger Pigeon to extinction? 

A massive effort was undertaken to educate the public and especially farmers and gardeners about the needs of the fragile fliers. All across the continent, people who had never heard of milkweed started planting it in their gardens. The aim was to create a "butterfly highway" right across the continent, to provide the insect with the plants that are absolutely essential to its survival. Finally this year, we are seeing the positive effects of all those efforts.  

Just a few days ago, Mexican environmental officials announced that they anticipate a quadrupling of the iconic butterfly's population this year as a result of the joint efforts of Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. If we can sustain those conservation efforts, keeping up environmental regulations of logging and pesticides and continuing to plant milkweed, there seems a good chance that the growth in the population will continue.

My own anecdotal observations support the optimism of the officials. Over the last two to three years, Monarch visitors to my garden have been few and far between. Beginning in early spring this year, I began to notice an increase in traffic and I would often see eggs like this one on my milkweed plants.

I would monitor as the tiny embryos developed in those eggs.


And the eggs hatched into caterpillars like these.


And eventually those caterpillars developed the chrysalis where they would turn themselves into a beautiful butterfly.



Female Monarch on milkweed.

The fall migration of these butterflies is continuing. Not a day goes by that I don't see at least two or three of them passing through my garden. It is a heartening display of the resilience of Nature and the tenacity of life - even of such a fragile creature. If there is hope for the Monarch, perhaps there is hope for us all.

6 comments:

  1. How great to know their population is growing again. Perhaps there is hope for us, as you said.

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    1. It is a very welcome bit of good news to lighten our hearts.

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  2. I'm seeing a lot of them too :-)

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    1. It's been very heartening to see a steady stream of them through the garden this year.

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  3. So nice to get some good news this week. And thanks for the lesson on the Monarch life cycle. The photos are beautiful!

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    1. It is good to have this news to celebrate, isn't it? I am a habitat gardener, so the success of the effort to restore the Monarch is particularly welcome news for me.

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