Monarch Butterflies in a Freefall – What will our Butterfly Count Show?
This Saturday is our 17th Annual Loudoun County Butterfly count where we form into 8 teams, each led by an experienced butterflier (that’s a new area of expertise if you weren’t sure), as we identify and count as many butterflies as we can inside our count circle and along designated routes within it.
We currently have 90 people signed up for the count and a glorious Saturday with a forecasted temperature of 81 degrees. It couldn’t get any better as that temperature is just right for the butterflies to be flying and the counters to be counting.
But what will we find? We’re hearing about (and seeing in our gardens) incredible numbers of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Silvery Checkerspots so we’ll see if we break any records with their numbers, but what about Monarchs? We’ve been keeping tabs on the listservs all spring and summer as butterfly counts took place through the Midwest, the Adirondacks, and into Canada and reports throughout those areas were grim…..1 or 2 or 5 Monarchs (or no Monarchs at all) where in previous years there would be 70-100.
This article just released provides a really good recap of what is being seen in Canada, historically the northern range of the Monarch: Why monarch butterflies’ numbers are in freefall. Here’s an excerpt:
Since a monarch’s life span is only about two to four weeks – one migration can comprise several generations of the butterflies – an entire generation is missing in Ontario. “What that means is that each generation is not producing very many monarchs,” Ms. Howard says. “The significant thing beyond that is that fall migration starts in August. So, we’re looking at the breeding season ending before the numbers really build.” Ms. Howard says the monarchs need warmer temperatures to make up their numbers. “This year is an extreme. Nobody knows if they can recover from these levels. They may bounce back, but it doesn’t look very good.”
Here in Loudoun we have seen an uptick in at least being able to find eggs and first instar caterpillars and every few days or so I’ll get an email from someone saying “I saw a Monarch!” They’re out there but in slim numbers.
At Banshee Reeks, I saw at least 10 nectaring on Thistle and the milkweed there is robust to say the least. So if you want to see Monarchs, I recommend a stroll through the trails along the fields.
So what will our butterfly count show? Well, last year we counted 57 Monarchs. Our high in 2009 was 193. I’ll do a posting early next week with a quick summary of our count, including our Monarch numbers – maybe Virginia is their northern range this year?
You can help the Monarch by going out into your local milkweed patch, looking for caterpillars and bringing them in to raise. In the wild, only 1-2 out of 100 survive to adulthood but we can do better than that by raising them inside, protected from predators. If you want to participate in that and in helping reach our goal of raising & releasing 2,013 Monarch in Loudoun between now and early October, Contact Us and we’ll help you get started. All you need is a good milkweed patch where you can look for caterpillars (and eggs) and a rearing house.
You can also help by planting a Monarch waystation – a stopover place where there are native nectar plants (please plant Goldenrods, Asters, Joe Pye Weed, New York Ironweed) that help them build up fat reserves in order to make it to Mexico; and milkweed – the only plant they lay their eggs on and that they eat as caterpillars. Abernethy & Spencer and WildWood Landscape both are selling the plants you need. Give them a quick google to get their location and hours. Plant your waystation and register it with Monarch Watch – ever bit helps.