Sunday, March 7, 2010

The news is grim...

If you love monarch butterflies, the news is grim. This is the time of year we look forward to the beginning of their return from their over-wintering grounds in California and Mexico. But this year monarchs may be harder to see. The sheer number of monarchs everywhere nose-dived this past Fall to the lowest ever recorded in Mexico and California. Then, compounding the issue, fierce storms and flooding pummeled the monarchs' winter home in Mexico. While the exact number of losses are unknown, the news isn't good.

Why the low numbers? Scientists suggest the weather was one culprit. The Midwest had a cool, rainy summer which resulted in lower numbers of monarchs reproducing. In the West, no one has speculated as to the cause this year. But it is well known that the number of monarch butterflies has dropped over time for several reasons. Habitat loss, increased pesticide use, urbanization, roadside spraying of milkweed, and weather changes all play a role. How significant is this? Some scientists say the monarch butterfly will lose its magnificent migration in less than 25 years if something doesn't change.The World Wildlife Fund placed the monarch butterfly on its Top Ten Endangered list primarily because its migration is an endangered phenomena.

So, how can we help? Create a monarch habitat in your yard. Plant milkweed. Better yet, encourage your friends, relatives, too -- and your city parks and churches. Think "monarch" with gifts of milkweed plants for Easter or Earth Day, April 22. Plant monarch-attractive flowers for nectar. There are many websites with great information about creating monarch-friendly gardens. But for those of us who live in the Sonoran Desert, especially in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the types of flowers and planting times are a challenge.

First, are there monarchs in the desert? You bet! Last year the Southwest Monarch Study tagged over 2,000 monarchs in Arizona! The first monarchs of the season were seen early in July in the Southeastern portion of the state and along the Little Colorado River near Springerville. Monarchs were spotted in the Phoenix area on September 10 on South Mountain and the next day at the Desert Botanical Garden. Soon they were seen around the area, especially in the East Valley, nectaring and laying eggs on Asclepias subulata, Desert Milkweed. It was formerly thought that Desert Milkweed was too coarse for monarch caterpillars to chew or that it supplied insufficient nutrition, possibly causing deformities. But, to the contrary, monarch caterpillars thrive on Desert Milkweed! The caterpillars are robust and the new monarch butterflies are strong and healthy.

The goal of this blog is to share information about monarch butterflies in our unique desert environment. But first, mark your calendar today for upcoming plant sales in the area that will offer milkweed and monarch friendly plants. Over the next days we'll explore what a healthy monarch refuge can look like.

Plant Sales
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix
Member Day:  Friday, March 19
General Public:  Saturday, March 20 to Sunday, March 21

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior
Member Day: Friday, March 12
General Public:  Saturday, March 13 through Sunday, March 28

Upcoming Monarch Workshops
I will also be leading the following classes on creating monarch habitats:

Hassayampa River Preserve, The Nature Conservancy
Unraveling the Mystery of the Monarch Migration
Saturday, March 13 from 1 to 3 PM
Contact (928) 684-2772 for information and registration

How to Create a Monarch Oasis
Environmental Education Center at Veterans Oasis Park, Chandler
Contact (480)782-2890 for information and registration

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