The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that Monarchs are indeed threatened with extinction, but will not be added to the US list of Endangered and Threatened Species. The official designation is “warranted, but precluded,” which means they fall in line behind 161 other species considered more endangered.
Monarchs mating in a patch of Common Milkweed, Good Harbor Beach Gloucester
From USFWS –
What action did the Service take?
We have made a 12-month finding on a petition to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on a thorough review of the monarch’s status, we determined that listing is warranted, but a proposal to list the monarch is precluded at this time while we work on higher-priority listing actions.
Is the monarch federally protected now?
No. Our 12-month finding does not protect monarchs under the ESA at this time. We first must propose the monarch for listing as either an endangered or threatened species, gather and analyze public comments and any new information, and using the best available science, make a final decision and publish a final rule. That process is deferred while we work on higher-priority listing actions.
What is a 12-month finding?
Under the ESA, when we receive a petition to list a species, we first make a 90-day finding, in which we evaluate the information in the petition to see if it is substantial enough to begin a review of the species’ status. If it is a substantial finding, we then prioritize the species in our evaluation process, and at the appropriate time, we begin a status review. The culmination of that review is a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing actions.
Who petitioned the Service to list the monarch?
The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and a private individual petitioned us in 2014 to list the monarch. We made a positive 90-day finding in December 2014 and launched the status review in 2016.
Read more questions and answers here on the USFWS website –
Female Monarch depositing egg on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Evaluating the Migration Mortality Hypothesis Using Monarch Tagging Data
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
August 7, 2020
Orley Talor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States
John M. Pleastant, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, United States
Ralph Grundel, U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center, Chesterton, IN, United States
Samulel D. Pecoraro, U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center, Chesterton, IN, United States
James P. Lovett, Monarch Watch, Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States
Ann Ryan, Monarch Watch, Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States
The decline in the eastern North American population of the monarch butterfly population since the late 1990s has been attributed to the loss of milkweed during the summer breeding season and the consequent reduction in the size of the summer population that migrates to central Mexico to overwinter (milkweed limitation hypothesis). However, in some studies the size of the summer population was not found to decline and was not correlated with the size of the overwintering population. The authors of these studies concluded that milkweed limitation could not explain the overwintering population decline. They hypothesized that increased mortality during fall migration was responsible (migration mortality hypothesis). We used data from the long-term monarch tagging program, managed by Monarch Watch, to examine three predictions of the migration mortality hypothesis: (1) that the summer population size is not correlated with the overwintering population size, (2) that migration success is the main determinant of overwintering population size, and (3) that migration success has declined over the last two decades. As an index of the summer population size, we used the number of wild-caught migrating individuals tagged in the U.S. Midwest from 1998 to 2015. As an index of migration success we used the recovery rate of Midwest tagged individuals in Mexico. With regard to the three predictions: (1) the number of tagged individuals in the Midwest, explained 74% of the variation in the size of the overwintering population. Other measures of summer population size were also correlated with overwintering population size. Thus, there is no disconnection between late summer and winter population sizes. (2) Migration success was not significantly correlated with overwintering population size, and (3) migration success did not decrease during this period. Migration success was correlated with the level of greenness of the area in the southern U.S. used for nectar by migrating butterflies. Thus, the main determinant of yearly variation in overwintering population size is summer population size with migration success being a minor determinant. Consequently, increasing milkweed habitat, which has the potential of increasing the summer monarch population, is the conservation measure that will have the greatest impact.
Since the late 1990s, the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, population has declined significantly based on measurements made at the Mexican overwintering grounds (Brower et al., 2011; Semmens et al., 2016). Identifying the cause or causes of the decline is important in order to focus conservation measures appropriately. Two explanations for the decline in the size of the overwintering population dominate the literature. The first, known as the “milkweed limitation” hypothesis, posits that the decline in the number of milkweed host plants in the major summer breeding area in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. (Figure 1) has led to a reduction in the size of the migratory population (Pleasants et al., 2017). The second, known as the “migration mortality” hypothesis, posits that the resources and conditions during the fall migration have declined resulting in an increase in mortality during the migration and a decline in the overwintering population (Agrawal and Inamine, 2018).
Figure 1. All wild-caught butterflies tagged from north of 40° latitude and east of 100° longitude were included in the study. This area includes the region we are calling the Midwest, encompassing the area from 40 to 50° latitude and 80 to 100° longitude (outlined in red) and the region we are calling the Northeast, encompassing the area from 40 to 50° latitude and 65 to 80° longitude (outlined in blue). What we are calling the Total Area is the Midwest and Northeast combined. The NDVI values (Saunders et al., 2019) come from the region that encompasses the area from 30 to 40° latitude and 90 to 105° longitude (outlined in green). The dark blue square indicates the location of the overwintering colonies. Butterflies were tagged in other sectors besides the Midwest and Northeast but those data are not included in this study.
The milkweed limitation hypothesis is supported by data showing that in the early 2000s the majority of monarch production came from common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, in corn and soybean fields in the Midwest (Oberhauser et al., 2001) and that the abundance of those milkweeds declined precipitously due to glyphosate herbicide use in those fields (Pleasants and Oberhauser, 2013; Flockhart et al., 2015; Pleasants et al., 2017; Thogmartin et al., 2017a; Saunders et al., 2018). The loss of the milkweeds from corn and soybean fields began in the late 1990s with the adoption of glyphosate-tolerant crops. Milkweeds had been nearly eliminated from these fields by 2006 (Pleasants, 2017). During this period, an estimated 71% of the monarch production potential of milkweeds on the Midwest landscape was eliminated, amounting to 25 million hectares of agricultural habitat that no longer had milkweeds (Pleasants, 2017). The subsequent decrease in the availability of milkweed is thought to have limited the size of the summer breeding population. Support for this hypothesis comes from the pattern of decline in milkweed availability that parallels the decline in the size of the overwintering population (Pleasants et al., 2017). Further support comes from the strong correlation between yearly late summer Midwest monarch egg production and yearly overwintering population size (Pleasants and Oberhauser, 2013; Pleasants et al., 2017).
In thinking about where have all the butterflies gone, I am reminded of the poignant song written by Pete Seeger “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which although a song about the futility of war, sums up much about the environmental impact of habitat loss. Without wildflower habitat, there will be no pollinators of any sort.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.
Buckeye and Seaside Goldenrod
Where have all the butterflies gone? Different species of butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. For example, some years you may see far greater numbers of Buckeyes, the next year not so much. That same year you may hardly see any Tiger Swallowtails but will the following.
That being said,, everyone must realize that every year there are fewer butterflies than the year before. Butterflies thrive in meadows, the very same topography that is the easiest to build upon. Every time a new house or shopping mall is built on a meadow, we decrease not just butterfly habitat, but a whole community of wildlife habitat.
In the above photo you can see a Monarch with a Black Swallowtail flying overhead. This stunning patch of wildflowers and nectar plants was sited in Gloucester at a prime spot for Monarchs to rest and refuel after migrating across Massachusetts Bay. The new home owners ripped out most of the wildflowers and planted the site in a more formal style, with non-native perennials and shrubs. At this location, I would often see Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted and American Ladies, Sulphurs, and many other species. That is no longer true.
Tiger Swallowtail drinking nectar from Joe Pye-weed at the same wildflower patch, no longer in existence.
Butterfly and bee populations are declining overall, not only because of habitat loss, but because of the unbridled use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and home lawn care.
Butterflies are especially sensitive to fluctuations in weather, and also to overall climate change. This year we had a long, cold wet spring. The inclement weather is continuing, too, from a butterflies perspective, because although we are seeing some warmer temperatures the past few days, it has mostly been rainy, foggy, or overcast. Butterflies thrive during long stretches of sunny, hot weather. Their wings don’t work very well in the damp and cold. Because of global climate change, we have seen a seven percent increase in precipitation worldwide.
One of the best years I have ever seen for dozens and dozens of species of butterflies, including Monarchs, in the Northeast, was the summer and fall of 2012. That year, we had a warm winter followed by a warm spring, then a warm, dry summer, and a long, warm Indian summer. It was butterfly bonanza that summer and autumn!Adding to people’s concern is the fact that last year, there was an abundance of spring rain that in turn created an extraordinary wildflower bloom in Texas, which got all the butterflies off to a good start. In 2019, we were seeing Monarchs as early as early June, which was very unusual for Cape Ann. Folks are comparing this year to that of 2019, however, 2019 was not an average year.
Monarchs are a case unto themselves. Their spring and summer numbers depend upon a variety of additional conditions, including how successful was the previous year’s autumn migration, whether or not there were nectar providing wildflowers on their northward and southward migrations, and wind and weather conditions from Canada to Mexico.
Note the bar graph in that the eastern population of the Monarchs plummeted by half, according to this year’s spring count by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico.
Particularly in the northeast, the wind patterns during the Monarchs spring northward migration matter tremendously. My friend Charmaine at Point Pelee, in southern Ontario, which is 49 degrees latitude (we are 43 degrees latitude) has been raising and releasing Monarchs for over a month now, while most of us on Cape Ann have only seen a smattering. The Monarchs moved this year in a straight northward trajectory. If the wind does not blow from west to east during some part of their northward migration, far fewer will end up along the eastern shores.Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod
All is not lost. I am 90 percent certain we will soon be seeing some of our migratory and non-migratory local populations, we just need some good weather. They are later than usual, but not gone entirely.
For so many more reasons, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife and their habitats and see such tremendous, positive change. Despite the current administration’ s extremely harmful stance against the environment, many, many individuals and organizations are gaining a deeper appreciation about the importance of habitats and taking positive action. Many have made it their life’s work. These individuals and organizations are creating wildlife sanctuaries and conserving existing habitats. If the Monarch is declared an endangered species, that will surely bring an added awarenesses and increased federal spending for protecting and creating habitats.
How can you help the Monarchs, which in turn will help myriad species of other butterflies and pollinators? Plant wildflowers! Both Marsh and Common Milkweed for their northward migration, and lots of nectar-rich later summer blooming wildflowers for their southward migration, including New England Aster, Smooth Aster, Purple-stemmed Aster, Seaside Goldenrod, and Canada Goldenrod.Monarchs and New England Aster
Today marks another milestone, ten days old. After today, we begin to think of chicks as two weeks old, three weeks, old, etc. Thank you to Everyone for your watchful eyes and kind interest!
Yes, Duncan, if the tracks you saw were down by the water, it was our GHB Red Fox. I think it was the Dad (the Mom is much skinnier, from nursing and scavenging food for the kits). He was bringing a rabbit breakfast to the kits.
Sally – such a joy to see when they stretch and try to “flap” their tiny wing buds <3
The cooler weather this weekend is a tremendous break for the PiPls. Last night I stopped by and people are partying much later on the beach on weeknights than in previous years, surely because of coronavirus and a lack of jobs. I picked up six empty full-sized whiskey bottles, three were in the roped off area, and fifty plus beer cans that had been buried in the sand. That smell of stale beer at 6 in the morning is so Gross!
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) Good Harbor Beach
Thank you Deb for the Monarch sighting report. The milkweed is in full bloom in the dunes–perfect timing for the Monarchs to begin arriving. I have a friend who is so worried she hasn’t seen any in her garden. I’ve been telling her they usually arrive around July 4th, in a normal year. She will be thrilled when I share your sighting.
Did you know that there are over two hundred species of milkweed (Asclepias) found around the world? Seventy different species are native to North America.
Milkweeds, as most know, are the host plant for Monarch Butterflies. A host plant is another way of saying caterpillar food plant.
Monarchs deposit eggs on milkweed plants. Some milkweeds are more productive than other species. For the Northeast region, the most productive milkweed is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The second most productive is *Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). What is meant by productive? When given a choice, the females choose these plants over other species of milkweed and the caterpillars have the greatest success rate. In our own butterfly garden and at at my client’s habitat gardens, I grow both side-by-side. The females flit from one plant to the next, freely depositing eggs on both species.
This fun chart shows some of the most common species of milkweeds found in North America. *Swamp Milkweed is another common name for Marsh Milkweed.
Although Monarchs have been sited as far north as 46 degrees, it is still very early for us even though we are at 43 degrees latitude because we are so far east. Please write if you see one in your garden. And feel free to send a photo. I will post photos here. Thank you so much!
Keep your eyes peeled, especially on emerging milkweed shoots. In the photos below, Monarchs are drinking nectar from, depositing eggs on, and also mating on the milkweed plants. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) are the two most productive milkweeds for the Northeast region.
I love this handy chart that features a number of common butterflies we see in New England, and thought you would, too
Nectar plants are wonderful to attract butterflies to your garden, but if you want butterflies to colonize your garden, you need to plant their caterpillar host (food) plants. We all know Common Milkweed and Marsh Milkweed are the best host plants for Monarchs, and here are a few more suggestions. When you plant, they will come! And you will have the wonderful added benefit of watching their life cycle unfold.
Monarchs are dependent upon milkweeds during every stage of their life cycle. Milkweeds are not only their caterpillar food, it provides nectar to myriad species of pollinators.
Come join us Wednesday morning from 10am to 11am at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be sharing Monarch fun with young people. We have art activities, as well as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, and possibly a butterfly or two emerging on the day of the program. I hope you can join us!
This program is held in conjunction with the Cape Ann Reads exhibit currently on view at the main floor of the Sawyer Free.
2019 has been an amazing year for Monarchs. We got off to a very early and fantastic start, but then with a wave of cool rainy weather the Monarch movement slowed considerably. Despite the slow down, we’ve had at least two subsequent waves come through for a total of three broods this summer. Hopefully this will translate to a great 2019 migration followed by strong numbers at the Monarch butterfly’s winter sanctuaries at Michoacán and the state of Mexico.
The eggs we see now on milkweed plants are the super generation of Monarchs that will travel to Mexico!
The photos show the Monarch caterpillar becoming a chrysalis. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar finds a safe place and spins a silky mat. He inserts his last pair of legs into the silky mat and hangs upside down in a J-shape for about a day. Biological developments that began when the caterpillar first emerged are in high gear now. The caterpillar’s suit, or exoskeleton, splits along the center line of the thorax and shrivels as the developing green chrysalis is revealed. The last photo in the gallery shows the moment when the old skin is tossed off.
My friend Eric Hutchins sent along this snapshot of his wonderfully lush patch of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). He thought I would like to see how beautifully his milkweed has grown from seeds distributed at our milkweed sale several years ago. Thanks so much to Eric, love seeing this! Plant for the pollinators and they will come 🙂
Two weeks ago today, four tiny Piping Plover chicks hatched at Good Harbor Beach. Nesting got off to a rocky start, with the mated pair first attempting to nest at the beach, then at the parking lot, but then thankfully, returning to their original nest site.
The relative peace on the beach, excellent parenting by Mama and Papa PiPl, cooler than average temperatures, vigilant monitoring by a corps of dedicated volunteers, outpouring of consideration by beach goers, as well as support from the DPW, City administration, and City Councilors has allowed the chicks to attain the two-week-old stage of maturity. With each passing day, we can see the chicks are gaining in strength and fortitude and listening more attentively to their parent’s voice commands. Adhering to Mama and Papa’s piping calls is an important milestone in their development. The parents continuously pipe commands and directions, warning of danger and directing the chicks to come to a stand still. The tiny shorebird’s best defense is its ability to blend with its surroundings when motionless.
The chicks spent the early morning warming up and foraging at the protected area. Afternoon found them camped out at the creek.
Snapshots from the morning
There was a group of young people stationed near the PiPl protected area enjoying the beach on this fine sunny afternoon. All was good though as the chicks were perfectly safe, foraging far down the creek. With gratitude and thanks to everyone who is helping to keep our PiPl family safe.
There has been more interest than anticipated in Monarch eggs. Thank you to everyone for writing!
At present, Jane has over 100 caterpillars in her kitchen terrariums. These will become butterflies within the month, and each female that emerges will lay between 300 to 700 eggs. I’ve compiled a list of everyone who left a comment. We are thrilled and grateful readers are so interested in helping raise Monarchs this summer. I will contact all as soon as Jane has a new batch of freshly laid Monarch eggs.
In the meantime, I am going to type up some FAQs. I also suggest using a glass rectangular fish tank/terrarium, with a fitted screen top, for rearing the caterpillars. If you don’t have one, they are available at our local pet stores. Also, a package of cheese cloth. Along with a plentiful supply of milkweed, that’s all you will need.
A friend with a lovely garden just loaded with milkweed would like help this summer raising Monarchs. She is located in the Annisquam area. Last year Jane had so many eggs and caterpillars, she had a real time of it trying to take care of all. This year promises to be as good as, if not better than, last year.
If you would like Monarch eggs and information on how to take care of the eggs and caterpillars, please comment in the comment section, and we will provide you with Monarch babies!
A very brief update to let all our Friends know that work is progressing on my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. The new footage from this year’s magnificent migration in Mexico has been added. My amazing team, Eric and Kristen, are plugging in the newly recorded voice over.
For the next several weeks, I’ll be planting my client’s pollinator gardens and getting them underway for the summer. After mid-June, we’ll be back in the editing studio with Eric and Kristen finessing the color correction and audio, with plans for a mid-summer release. Happy Butterfly Days!
Tree-top view – standing at the top of the mountain looking down into the valley below. All the orange bits and flakes in the trees are Monarchs.
In early March, the native wildflower White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) was at bloom in Cerro Pelon and the Monarchs couldn’t get enough of it!
So many Monarchs this early in the season portends a possibly great summer for butterflies in our meadows and gardens. It’s the perfect time of year to plant Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds and many of our local nurseries carry Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) plants. These two species are the most productive for Monarch eggs and caterpillars in our region.
Monarchs mating in a patch of Common Milkweed.
Monarch drinking nectar from Common Milkweed florets. Female depositing egg on Marsh Milkweed foliage.
The milkweed we grow in the north supports spectacular migrations such as the one that took place this past winter of 2018-2019.
David Rhinelander had one two days in a row at his garden on Pine Street, Heather Hall spotted a Monarch at the Hamilton Library, Jennie Meyer had one in her garden and sent along some photos, Donna Soodalter-Toman had one in her yard, Jen in Rockport has them, and Susan Donelan Burke saw a Monarch in Magnolia. This is very early and thank you so much to Everyone for writing!
Keep your eyes peeled for Red Admirals and Painted Ladies, too.
Red Admirals nectaring at lilacs. The last time we had so many Red Admirals in our garden in May was in 2012 and that was a banner year for butterflies of many species.
In the above photo compare the Monarch to the Painted Lady. If you see a “small” Monarch, it may be a Painted Lady or a Red Admiral.
Friends often ask, and I cover this topic extensively in my Monarch programs, “What is the best milkweed to plant in our region?” Without a doubt, the two most important and productive are Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).
Marsh Milkweed also goes by the name Swamp Milkweed, but Marsh sounds so much more appealing, don’t you think? Milkweeds already have the suffix weed attached to their names. To some folks any wildflower that includes the word weed seems invasive, and we don’t want to frighten people from planting our sweet native wildflowers by inferring they are a swamp dweller, too.
Gallery of Marsh Milkweed
When a weed is not a weed – It’s unfortunate that so many of our native beauties end in “weed.” Ironweed, Joe-pye Weed, Sneezeweed, Thimbleweed, Butterfly Weed, and Milkweed are just some examples. Why were these native wildflowers at one time long ago named “weed.” Because the earliest colonists brought from their home countries flowering plants that were beloved and familiar to them, delphiniums and larkspurs, for example. In their new American home gardens, these treasured European plants would have been easily overtaken by our more vigorous American wildflowers.
To return to the topic of milkweed, Common Milkweed spreads by both underground and by seed. It’s ideal for dunes, meadows, and fields. Marsh Milkweed is more clump forming and stays relatively close to where you plant it. You can control how much it spreads by deadheading, or not, before the seed heads turn to fluff and sail away. I grow both Marsh Milkweed and Common Milkweed side-by-side. In our garden, the female Monarch does not discern the difference between the two species of milkweeds, she will flit from one to the other, and back again, depositing her eggs all along the way.
Gallery of Common Milkweed
By the way, both A. syriaca and A. incarnata are also the easiest milkweeds to grow in Massachusetts.
A ten-year nation-wide study was recently published. Across the country, Marsh and Common proved to be the most productive, in other words, more eggs were laid on these two species than on any other species of milkweed.
The map provided below is somewhat helpful; I write somewhat with a word of advice. If you click on Massachusetts, for example, not only are Common and Marsh Milkweeds listed but also Purple Milkweed (A. pupurascens), Fourleaf Milkweed (A. quadrifolia), Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa), Poke Milkweed (A. exaltata), Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata), and Clasping Milkweed (A. amplexicaulis). We grow a nice patch of Whorled Milkweed and I have never, ever seen a Monarch once visit the foliage or flowers. Purple Milkweed can be very challenging to get started, and Butterfly Weed is not as hardy in our region as are Common and Marsh.
Milkweeds are the only food plant for Monarch caterpillars and also provide nectar to a host of pollinators including many, many species of butterflies, bees, beetles, and even hummingbirds. Plant for the pollinators and they will come!
This is an image from my recent adventure to Cerro Pelon. I am dying to write about the trip, but have had a very full schedule finishing up my film, organizing landscape jobs for the season, and hoping to get the PiPls settled in. The Monarchs in the photo are mud-puddling. Tens of thousands leave the butterfly trees during the heat of the day, sucking up water and much needed nutrients from the mud at nearby mountain streams
The World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced on January 30th that this year the Monarch Butterfly population has increased significantly.
Each year the orange and black winged beauties return to the oyamel fir and pine tree forests, which are located in the heart of Mexico’s trans volcanic mountain belt. In December and January, Lepidoptera population specialists and citizen scientists measure the area the Monarch colonies cover at their over wintering sites. This year (2018-2019) the butterflies are blanketing 6.05 hectares (approximately 15 acres), up from an all-time low of only 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) during the winter of 2013-2014.
Not since 2006-2007 has this great an area been covered by the butterflies, although the numbers are still quite low when compared to the numbers recorded in the late 1970s when the butterfly’s winter roosts were first discovered by Dr. Fred Urquhart.
I have been following the butterfly counts around the US as they were reported. The Monarch population has been decimated in California. This year only about 30,000 butterflies were counted, down from several million just two decades ago. There is the very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly will become extirpated (extinct from an area) on the West coast. The winter count is down drastically in Florida as well.
It was clear though that east of the Rockies–the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US, as well as southern provinces of Canada–there were many more Monarchs in gardens and on the wing than in recent previous summers.
Leading Monarch scientists are reluctant to become excited about the increase, and justifiably so. Last spring the weather was slightly cooler in Texas, which allowed more Monarch eggs to hatch, which in turn allowed more caterpillars to mature. A greater number of butterflies emerged and set the stage for a strong breeding season throughout the summer. That scenario, along with the overall good weather during the summer of 2018, also helped create ideal conditions. It was a true “goldilocks” summer, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
In autumn of 2018, the Monarchs arrived to Mexico about a week later than usual, but once they began to arrive, a kaleidoscope of butterflies poured into their winter roosting grounds.
The 2018-2019 Eastern population count is a reprieve from the past ten years of heartbreaking news, but one good year does not change what the butterflies need most, which is protection for the Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.
Monarch and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
There is disagreement among scientists whether planting milkweed has any bearing on the health of the Monarch butterfly population. Does creating corridors of Monarch habitat help mitigate the death and destruction caused by climate change, modern agricultural practices, the devastating use of pesticides and herbicides, and the planting of GMO crops (corn, sorghum, and soybeans, for example) that were engineered to withstand the deadly poisons, but which wildflowers and caterpillars cannot?
Monarch Butterflies and New England Aster, Gloucester, 2018
I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Monarchs are a bellwether species. The love for this one butterfly has helped to shape a consciousness towards all species at risk. An uncomplicated stand of milkweed and asters can make every public walkway, park, community center, church, school, and backyard a haven for Monarchs and together we can bring about a conservation victory for the pollinators.
Photos from a recent visit to friend and East Gloucester resident Patti Papows delightful in-every-way butterfly and pollinator garden
Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Although I was only able to visit for a few hours, it was wonderful to see all that she has planted for the pollinators, and as a result, all the pollinators drawn to her garden. You could spend a week in Patti’s garden and not see everything. The afternoon I was there, the deep magenta red butterfly bush was in full glorious bloom and was the star pollinator attractant of the day. Snowberry Clearwing Moths, Tiger Swallowtails, Monarchs, Catbirds, Robins, Bumble Bees, Honey Bees, and every other winged creature in the neighborhood was enjoying sweet nectar and the fruits from Patti’s blossoms. Bees and butterflies love variety and in a garden as richly planted as Patti’s, everyday is a party for the pollinators!
I am looking forward to returning to Patti’s garden when the Morning Glories are in full bloom 🙂
Common Milkweed (Ascleipias syriaca) is the essential food plant for populations of the Northeastern and Atlantic coast Monarchs. During Colonial times, the silky floss found in the dried seed heads was used to stuff quilts and pillows. In the 1860s, in Salem Massachusetts, Common Milkweed silk was used as a mattress filling.
During WWII, Common Milkweed became the substitute for kapok, a soft cottony material from the kapok tree that was the preferred filling for life vests. Japan cut off the supply of kapok from Java, the main source of the material, and part of the wartime effort included children sent to fields to gather millions of pounds of Milkweed seed heads for the armed services.
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
An innovative Canadian clothing manufacturer, the Quartz Company and Altitude Sports, has created the first modern insulated jacket using milkweed silk. Hundreds of acres of Common Milkweed have been planted in Vermont and Quebec. Particularly noteworthy is that the fields of Milkweed are not harvested until after the Monarchs have left.
Thank you to Patti Papows for putting together these utterly charming pouches of milkweed seeds for our event tomorrow. We also have loads of milkweed pods and Joe-Pye seeds to distribute so come on down to Captain Joe’s dock Sunday morning from 10:30 to noon. We hope to see you there!
Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, Gloucester.
To donate toward the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, please visit the film’s website at www.monarchbutterflyfilm.com
MILKWEED SEED COLLECTION AND DISTRIBUTION PROJECT SUNDAY OCTOBER 15TH
Collect ripe milkweed seed pods (only Common Milkweed and Marsh Milkweed please). Place in a paper bag, not plastic, as plastic can cause the seed pods to become damp and moldy.
Bring seedpods to Captain Joe and Sons on Sunday morning between 10:30 and noon. Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, East Gloucester.
If you’d like to distribute seeds, meet at the dock between 10:30 and noon and I will show you what to do.
NOTE: It is easy to tell when milkweed seedpods are ripe. The seeds inside turn brown. Do not collect the pods when the seeds are white or green. If you pick them too soon, they will never be viable. You can check the seed pods by slitting the pod a tiny bit and peeking inside.
Any questions, please comment in the comment section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you and I hope to see you Sunday morning!
To learn more about how you can help fund the documentary Beauty on the Wing and the Monarch Butterfly Film Online Fundraising event, please visit the film’s website at monarchbutterflyfilm.com.
Please join me Thursday evening, August 10th, at 7:00pm, at the Peabody Institute Library, South Branch. I will be giving my talk about how to create a garden to benefit a host of pollinators and screening several short films. I hope to see you there!
The day we planted blueberries, is the day the Catbirds moved in. Many species of songbirds are pollinators, too!
Painted Lady nectaring at wildflower Joe-pye, Good Harbor Beach
Bees and butterflies, as we all know, pollinate flowers, but did you know that bats, songbirds, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, moths, flies, midges, and even nasty mosquitoes also deliver pollen from plant to plant?
Flower pollinating Green-eyed Wasp drinking nectar from Common Milkweed florets.
The eyes of the male Green-eyed Wasp are larger than the females, all the better to see her, and predators. Green-eyed Wasps are also known as sand wasps because females excavate burrowing nests in sand (as well as soil).
Male Monarch Butterfly flitting about our garden and drinking nectar from the Marsh Milkweed florets.
Notice the mass of orange Milkweed Aphids in the background. Lady Beetles are another pollinator super hero because they help milkweed plants by eating aphids.
The title of the post could just as easily have read Monarchs, Eggs, and Caterpillars Here, There, and Everywhere. I haven’t seen this much Monarch activity on Cape Ann in over ten years and hope so much the number of Monarchs seen in gardens, meadows, and dunes indicates a strong migration.
Thank you to everyone who has written in with your Monarch sightings! The reports are tremendously informative and fun to read, so please, do continue to let us know. The rainy cool weather has temporarily put the kibosh on mating and egg laying, but they are here on our shores and just waiting for a few warm hours and the sun to come out to renew breeding activity.
Monarchs not only drink nectar from the florets of milkweed, it is the only species of plant on which they deposit their eggs. In the above photo you can clearly see the Monarch probing for nectar with her proboscis, or drinking straw.
Look for the butterflies, eggs, and caterpillars wherever milkweed grows. In our region, they are most often found on pink flowering Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), as opposed to the orange milkweeds, A. curassavica and A. tuberosa.
Female Monarch depositing an egg on an upper leaf of Common Milkweed.
The eggs are typically laid on the underside of the leaf, near the top of the plant. Tiny golden domes, no larger than a pinhead, Monarch eggs are easily confused with the eggs of other insects.
Once the tiny caterpillar emerges, it will stay towards the top of the plant, venturing further to larger leaves as it grows.
Four Monarchs in One Photo!
I was trying to take a snapshot of two Monarchs flying but not until I returned home did I realize that resting on a leaf were a pair of Monarchs mating. Lara Lepionka had just sent a photo the day before of a pair mating in a tree above her garden. Typically Monarchs will begin mating on the ground, or the foliage of a lower plant plant such as squash or milkweed. They will join together abdomen to abdomen and, once securely attached, the male then carries the female to a safer location. A male and female Monarch will stay coupled together for four to five hours before releasing (see photo below of a pair of Monarchs mating, towards center left.
Lara Lepionka cell phone photo of Monarchs mating in a tree.
Monarch and Common Milkweed Good Harbor Beach
Not everyone has a gorgeous milkweed patch like Patti Papows. Don’t despair. You don’t have to go far! I am finding tons of eggs and caterpillars on the Common Milkweed that grows around the edge of the parking lot at Good Harbor Beach.
Patti Papows Common Milkweed with Monarch and Bee.