Danaus plexippus, the monarch butterfly is an iconic North American migratory insect that has exacting requirements of the environment. I was discussing butterflies with my friends Milus and Wanda Wallace recently and Milus pointed out how few adult monarchs he has seen so far this year AND that he has seen zero monarch caterpillars on milkweeds (Asclepiadaceae). 2013 had the lowest population of overwintering monarchs ever recorded. An NPR news report blames this on herbicide tolerant GMO crops and drought creating a severe loss of habitat (milkweeds) in the midwest.
S,o for the past couple weeks, I have been examining every milkweed patch I come across. I have found no monarch caterpillars, pupae, or eggs – even though I am living someplace new this seems abnormal. However, I doubt NPR has the correct cause(s). While habitat loss has no doubt impacted the monarch just like it has impacted most wildlife, there are other insects that are milkweed specialists that I am finding on the milkweeds I have examined. Milkweeds and milkweed habitats have not become so rare in the landscape that Tetraopes tetropthalmus and Oncopeltus fasciatus are absent. Perhaps the loss of monarchs has more to do with the difficulties of long distance migration and overwintering than it does midwestern milkweeds and milkweed habitats.
Hopefully, this year I will find monarchs, it will make me sad if I do not. Even though I think NPR has it wrong, Kelly has planted a few species of milkweed seeds and we are in the process of giving our home a native plant make over. Consider spots in your yard where you can enjoy a small milkweed patch(es). There is no doubt that there is much less habitat today than in the past. Your small milkweed patch can make a difference for monarchs and also attract some very interesting creatures for you to
enjoy in your yard.