Buried in a small article in the paper this morning was a very sad news article: monarch butterfly populations have declined to their lowest levels in decades due, in part, to winter storms that took out an estimated 50-60% of the wintering populations in Mexico. ("Monarch Butterfly Population Plummets" The Wichita Eagle, Friday, March 19, 2010, p.2A)
The breeding population that is flying northward will therefore be the smallest known since 1975, when the overwintering grounds in Mexico were discovered.
There IS something we can all do about this, though. First, we can plant milkweed plants in our gardens this year - common milkweed, butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, and any other milkweed we can come across. The photo below shows a monarch nectaring on common milkweed blooms; the photo at the start of this blog shows a monarch nectaring on green antelopehorn, another milkweed that is common here in Kansas.
Second, every monarch caterpillar we come across should be a cause for great celebration.
Third, to aid in the growth and health of both the adults and the caterpillars, we can avoid spraying insecticides in our gardens...and even avoid releasing Bt in their immediate vicinity. Butterflies are insects and can be killed by insecticides; monarch caterpillars are caterpillars and will be stricken by Bt just as surely as loopers or cutworms.
This is one sad environmental story that we can all help turn around in our own yards and gardens. Our parts can be as simple as 1 - 2 - 3. Won't you join me this year?