Naturewatch: Bad year for monarch butterflies in the Berkshires


Q: Has anyone seen any monarchs? I saw one on my visits to the wildflower meadow at Kripalu and that's the only one I've seen all summer. We look forward to your help.

-- Katherine and Larry

A: It is I who should thank you for bringing this subject to my attention. With all that is going on, I had not really noticed, except once while out photographing milkweed and other wildflowers two week ago. I didn't see any evidence of monarch butterflies then, nor have I noticed any thus far this season.

A prompt answer from Lisa Proven cher of Pittsfield, who is our source for all things concerning insects, reveals that "[It is] not a good year for the monarch in the Berkshires." Lisa in cludes a source for additional information from Monarch Watch, an education, conservation, and research organization that, as the name implies, relates to the monarch butterfly, a long distance migrant.

The World Wildlife Fund-Mexico / Telcel Alliance, in collaboration with Mexico's National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CON ANP), held a press conference last March to announce the results of the status survey of the monarch, "[the] Monarch Butterfly Survey points to lowest numbers in 20 years."

"The percentage of forest occupied by monarch butterflies in Mexico, used as an indicator of the number of butterflies that arrive to that country each winter, reached its lowest level in two decades. According to a survey carried out during the 2012-13 winter season by the WWF-Telcel Alliance, and CONAP, the nine hibernating colonies occupy a total area of 2.94 acres of forest -- representing a 59 percent decrease from the 2011-12 survey of 7.14 acres.

"The latest decrease in monarch butterflies is likely due to a decrease in the milkweed plant (Asclepias) -- a primary food for monarchs -- from herbicide use in the butterfly's reproductive and feeding grounds in the U.S., as well as extreme climate variations during the fall and summer affecting butterfly reproduction."

And believe in global warming -- or don't -- but the impact of above-normal temperatures is taking its toll. For instance, "The monarch's life cycle depends on the climatic conditions in the places where they develop. Eggs, larvae and pupae develop more quickly in milder conditions. Temperatures above 95F can be lethal for larvae, and eggs dry out in hot, arid conditions, causing a drastic decrease in hatch rate," said Omar Vidal, director general of WWF-Mexico.

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