Perhaps even from childhood, we’re enthralled with the idea that tiny caterpillars undergo a complete metamorphosis and emerge as beautiful winged beings. We watch in awe as they sunbathe on our flowers and drink nectar from our milkweed plants, eagerly hoping these gentle creatures will stay a while so we may view them closer.
Well, we’ve got some good news! Monarch populations are expected to hit their peak as fall migration kicks off mid-August and these little critters take the flight back to Mexico. So, you should be seeing some soon. However, even at their peak, the population is still at record lows.
But, it’s not just monarchs that need our help. The Karner blue butterfly is registered as endangered under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Regal Fritillary is currently threatened.
Habitat loss, climate change and the use of pesticides have been cited as potential contributors to butterfly decline. Large-scale events, such as the ice storm in March of 2016 that struck the monarch population in Mexico, have a huge impact too. Lastly, conditions in the breeding sites of particular species of butterflies, as well as the amount, locations and quality of habitat and available nectar plants along migration routes, also play a role.
When it comes to pesticides, mosquito adulticides, herbicides broadcasted on our lawns and Neonicotinoids used to treat seeds and nurseries, all have harmful effects. If plant tissues have absorbed certain pesticides or insecticides, the damage to pollinators can be lethal when they ingest the leaves, pollen or nectar from a plant or seed.
So, whatever your interest or connection may be to monarchs, butterflies, or pollinators for that matter, they play a huge role in a myriad of ecosystems, and they need our help!
Monarch habitats are dwindling with reports of roughly 173 million acres of monarch habitat having vanished, an amount equivalent to the state of Texas. As habitat is lost, the monarch population moves into decline, reaching a low in 2013 of only 10% of their historic average, according to University of Kansas Professor Chip Taylor.
Lonnie Morris, Coordinator at DuPage Monarch Project, has been with the Illinois organization since its inception over a year ago. Noticing a problem, she brought together the Forest Preserve, Sierra Club, Conservation Foundation, and Wild Ones as a coordinated monarch conservation effort.
Morris considers monarchs to be “charismatic microfauna” and sees them as a poster child for the pollinator situation.
“Everyone loves monarchs, they don't sting, bite, destroy crops, are beautiful, easily recognized and connect with people's outdoor experiences, gardens, and childhoods,” Morris said.
While many factors are at play, one such impact on monarch decline could be a decrease in the availability of nectar plants along the fall migration route for refueling, or they're too far apart or not in linked corridors. The loss of milkweed in breeding areas, or not enough goldenrods and asters may take influence.
The three milkweeds that are appropriate for gardens and landscaping include swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, and common, Morris suggests. All have certain aspects that make them adapted to different soils, garden styles and situations.
A waystation is a garden that offers monarchs what they require to complete their life cycle. The two most important elements, host plants, and nectar sources must be present in sufficient quantity for caterpillar food and butterfly food. Ideally, plants should be closer together than in more formal plantings so caterpillars don't have to travel far for food. They will, however, travel a little way to find a pupating spot.
In addition, butterflies appreciate a place for basking on cool mornings, such as large rocks. A water source helps round out the habitat, which can be a damp spot or shallow dish of water or a birdbath.
Morris suggests that people take action to help monarchs in their yards by planting flowers. And, for people who don't garden, they can ask their church, school, park district or municipality to be monarch-friendly and DMP will work with them.
Thus far, Elmhurst and Carol Stream mayors have signed pledges to be monarch-friendly and the Warrenville Park District has also resolved to be monarch-friendly too.
“It is exhilarating when people come together on behalf of something they love and want to protect,” Morris said.
When a species is endangered, that means it is currently at risk of becoming extinct. Habitat loss due to land development has been attributed to population decline. In addition, natural disturbances, such as grazing mammals and wildfires help prevent encroaching forests from taking up natural prairie. So, without as many disturbances (i.e. wildfires), butterfly habitat may be lost as a result.
The main source of food for the Karner blue caterpillar and butterfly is Lupinus perennis or wild lupine. The caterpillars feed only on the leaves of this particular plant, while adults access the nectar of flowering plants. Their limited food range restricts where they survive and thrive best.
Karner blues are most widespread in Wisconsin but, their range also includes portions of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Ohio.
This particular butterfly is currently threatened, although there have been a few petitions to move it to the endangered species list due to its scattered habitat.
According to USFWS, Violets are the sole larval host plant for the fritillary, though the species of violets used varies (Vaughan and Shepherd 2005 at 2; NatureServe 2012 at 15; Selby 2007 at 29).
The Bird's Foot Violet (Viola pedata), Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida) and lance-leaved violet (Viola lanceolata) may all serve as available larval sources for the Regal Fritillary caterpillar, according to the USFWS.
Adult Regal Fritillaries feed on the nectar from milkweeds, thistles, red clover and mountain mint.
Come check out our wide selection of milkweeds, asters, and other nectar plants. The Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is especially nice in it's prime right now. You too can plant to protect our prized butterflies!By: Lauren Brostowitz
Posted on 8/18/2016 at 12:58:00 PM