In late October millions of Monarchs begin to arrive to the magnificent oyamel fir and pine tree forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located in the heart of Mexico in the eastern regions of Michoacán. Their return coincides with the annual celebration of Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead fiesta. Native peoples and their descendants today believe butterflies are the souls of departed loved ones, returning to Earth to be remembered by their ancestors. An even older tradition connects the Monarchs with the corn harvest, as their return signified that the corn was ripe. In the language of the native Purpécha Indians, the name for the Monarch is “harvester.” Ofrenda de Muertos Gloucester
Enchanted by Monarchs! We had a fantastic day filmmaking, thanks to Emma, Pilar, Frieda, Annie Kate, Lotus, April, Elijah, Esme, Charlie, Atticus, and last but not least, Meadow. And an extra huge thank you to all the moms and dads for not minding the early morning wake up calls and texts to let the kids know the butterflies were emerging! I was tied up filming and so wish I’d taken more stills.
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A patch of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in bloom has a wonderfully sweet honey-hay scent. Look for it growing along the sand dunes, roadside edges, fields, meadows, and where ever there is a neglected patch. And keep your eyes peeled for Monarchs; the earliest arrivals (for the most part) are synchronized to the flowering of Common Milkweed.
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Monarchs usually arrive in our region by the first week in July and go through several brood cycles. This year, barely any arrived. The Monarch’s sensitivity to temperature and dependence on milkweed make it vulnerable to environmental changes. Since 1994, U.S. and Mexican researchers have recorded a steady decline in the Monarch population in their overwintering grounds, with 2012-2013 being the lowest recorded to date.
Temperature change and habitat loss affect breeding success and longevity. Dr. Chip Taylor, a leading Monarch researcher at the University of Kansas reports that the widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybean crops resistant to herbicides, along with with intensive herbicide use, coupled with the federal government’s incentivized expansion of corn and soy acreage for the production of biofuels have caused a significant drop in milkweed throughout the heart of the Monarch’s range. Lack of milkweed equals no Monarchs. “Monarch/milkweed habitat has declined significantly in parallel with the rapid adoption of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans and, since 2006, the rapid expansion of corn and soy acreage to accommodate the production of biofuels,” Taylor wrote on May 29.
What can we do? Encourage conservation organizations that conserve Monarch habitat, plant milkweed, plant nectar plants, and raise caterpillars. Hopefully the weather next spring and early summer will be more conducive to the Monarch’s northward migration and breeding success, and if and when the Monarchs arrive, they will find our milkweed plants.
If anyone sees a Monarch, please email me at email@example.com or leave a comment in the comment section.