Each winter, pollinator enthusiasts anxiously await monarch population numbers as eastern populations overwinter in the forests of Mexico.
In early 2016, we were excited as monarch populations jumped from 1.13 hectares of land covered by overwintering monarchs to 4.01. It was the first rise in population for five years. But in 2017, the numbers dropped to 2.91 hectares, and this year’s numbers dwindled by another almost 15 percent to 2.48 hectares.
A lack of host milkweed plants for monarchs to lay their eggs on and for their caterpillars to eat, pesticide use, not enough native habitat for adult monarchs to feed on during their journeys north and south — so many factors come into play as to why monarch butterfly populations have dwindled almost 90 percent in the last 25 years.
We have more chances though. Journey North reports that monarchs started making their way north around March 8, and the first wave of first-generation monarchs arrived in Texas on March 22. It will take four-six generations of monarchs to reach their northern-most territories in Iowa, Minnesota and even into Canada before the last generation heads back south to overwinter again in Mexico.
We can all help those generations.
- Plant natives! There are plenty of milkweed varieties, read about them here, that are beneficial and also beautiful in landscaping.
- Cut down on pesticide use. Neonictinoids are considered harmful to pollinators, and many other chemicals that have widespread usage are not only deadly to bugs people don’t want around but they are deadly to everything. That means chemicals that kill mosquitoes also kill pollinating bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, ants and other beneficial insects.
- Get involved. Monarch Watch is asking for citizen scientists to keep track of monarch butterfly numbers throughout the country to help more accurately identify populations. You can sign up to count butterflies in your own community. Find out more about that here.
- Advocate. Make sure to talk to your friends, your neighbors, your family about the importance of pollinators and taking small steps in our own yards that will help bring back our populations.
We love pollinators at the Dickinson County Nature Center, don’t you too?