Over the past 10 years the monarch butterfly population has been declining. A Group of Kansans is currently trying to help reverse that.
These orange and black winged insects make a multi-generational migration north every year from forests in Mexico up to Canada and then back, relying on milkweed to sustain them on the journey.
“This is a country-wide species, and a country-wide issue,” he said. “Every little garden, every little roadside plot is critical.”
Current farming practices, including use of weed-controlling chemicals, have drastically reduced the amount of plants across Midwest. Though the butterflies, which are native to central America are not themselves endangered, their migration is.
Chip Taylor, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, said discussion is taking place on the federal level to help protect the monarchs, but it isn’t working fast enough.
“We can’t wait,” he said.
In 1996 the migratory monarch population was recorded to be roughly 20 hectares (square measurement equal to 100 acres). Last year, Taylor said, their number was recorded at .67 hectares.
Taylor is the director of Monarch Watch a KU-based national and international group devoted to the study, research and conservation of the butterfly species. The group promotes tagging monarchs, and plant propagation of milkweed across the U.S.
Monarch Watch has been around since 1993. The group’s focus, Taylor said, has shifted from research to conservation as the population has declined. As a result, the group has upped its efforts to collect milkweed seeds and distribute milkweed plants across the country. This year alone the group has sent out more than 40,000 plants.
They additionally provide free milkweed plants to schools and nonprofit organizations through an application process.
“It would be such a loss to lose the monarch migration,” said Pam Martin, an environmental educator at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. “It’s a miracle each year. There’s still so much we don’t know. To lose that would be a loss for the human race. We have to fight to keep that and save it.”
Martin, who helps Taylor’s conservation efforts, regularly checks the Bottoms for monarchs, caterpillars, eggs and chrysalises on the milkweed plants in the area.
Martin said the Bottoms actually have a decent amount of milkweed plants this year, thanks to decent rainfall this year.
Milkweed is a plant common to Kansas, and until recently it was found in large numbers in fields across Kansas. She also said although monarch butterfly numbers have decreased drastically, they seem to be rebounding locally, with many adults, caterpillars and eggs found in milkweed on Cheyenne Bottoms.
Taylor said this year’s population will be twice the size of last year’s.
In an effort to educate the public on the Wetlands Education Center at the Bottoms will host a Butterfly Festival on Sept. 13. Monarch Watch will also host an open house at Foley Hall on the KU campus on Sept. 13. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge will also host a similar event to tag monarchs on Sept. 20.
Martin said the free event will allow children and adults alike to help tag monarch butterflies, learn more about their migration, milkweed plants and other butterfly and insect species native to the area.
“During the festival, we are pre-making seed “bombs” composed of clay, compost, native wildflower and milkweed seeds and water to make them stick together, forming them into walnut-sized balls and drying,” Martin said. “The kids can use big slingshots to lob them into our prairie area and they can make some of their own to take home and “plant” there. Should be a hoot.”
Martin said door prizes will be presented just before noon.
Nets and tags will be available for those who want to capture and tag monarch butterflies. Participants will receive information about the tagging process before heading out with a tagging leader to search for Monarch butterflies.
Additionally, she said, the center will have sign ups for people to collect milkweed seed pods to send to Monarch Watch to help spread the seeds.
“It’s an effort to propagate milkweed and plant more to make up for the loss in the fields,” she said.
Martin said common milkweed isn’t pretty, but wild, swamp and butterfly milkweed varieties are fairly appealing and popular to plant in gardens.
“Even if you have a city lot you can do it,” she said. “Milkweed is so tough… once it’s established it pretty much takes care of itself.”
To learn more about the monarch butterfly, its migratory patterns and milkweed visit Monarch Watch’s website: www.monarchwatch.org/