By Michael Risinit, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News
GREENVILLE, N.Y. - Spotting a monarch butterfly this summer may be difficult, according to some experts who fear the population of the orange-and-black butterfly is crashing.
butterflies are known for their long-distance migration, a feat made
even more amazing because the fluttering insects heading south each fall
are about four generations descended from the ones that left Mexico the
They also serve as an important part of the food chain for birds.
logging in the Mexican forests where they spend the winter, new climate
patterns and the disappearance of milkweed - the only plant on which
monarchs lay their eggs and on which their caterpillars feed - are being
blamed for their shrinking numbers.
Brooke Beebe, former director
of the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College in
Valhalla, N.Y., collects monarch eggs, raises them from caterpillar to
butterfly and releases them.
"I do that when they're here. They're not here," she said.
alarm over disappearing monarchs intensified this spring when
conservation organizations reported that the amount of Mexican forest
the butterflies occupied was at its lowest in 20 years. The World
Wildlife Fund, in partnership with a Mexican wireless company and
Mexico's National Commission of Protected Areas, found nine hibernating
colonies occupied almost 3 acres during the 2012-13 winter, a 59%
decrease from the previous winter.
Because the insects can't be counted individually, the colonies'
total size is used. Almost 20 years ago, the colonies covered about 45
acres. A couple of acres contains millions of monarchs.
monarch population is pretty strong, except it's not as strong as it
used to be and we find out it keeps getting smaller and smaller," said
Travis Brady, the education director at the Greenburgh Nature Center
Monarchs arrived at the nature center later this year and in fewer numbers, Brady said.
nature center's butterfly house this summer was aflutter with red
admirals, giant swallowtails, painted ladies and monarchs, among others.
But the last were difficult to obtain because collectors supplying the
center had trouble finding monarch eggs in the wild, he said.
one is suggesting monarchs will become extinct. The concern is whether
the annual migration will remain sustainable, said Jeffrey Glassberg,
the North American Butterfly Association's president.
low shouldn't set off a panic, said Marianna T. Wright, executive
director of the National Butterfly Center in Texas, a project of the
"It should certainly get some attention,"
she said. "I do think the disappearance of milkweed nationwide needs to
be addressed. If you want to have monarchs, you have to have milkweed."
Milkweed is often not part of suburban landscape, succumbing to lawn
mowers and weed whackers, monarch advocates point out. Without it,
monarch eggs aren't laid and monarch caterpillars can't feed and develop
into winged adults.
"Many people know milkweed, and many people
like it," said Brady at the nature center. "And a lot of people actively
try to destroy it. The health of the monarch population is solely
dependent on the milkweed plant."
The widespread use of
herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans, which has resulted in the loss of
more than 80 million acres of monarch habitat in recent years, also
threatens the plant, according to the website Monarch Watch. In spraying
fields to eradicate unwanted plants, Midwest farmers also eliminate
The 2012 drought and wildfires in Texas also
made butterfly life difficult. All monarchs heading to or from the
eastern two-thirds of the country pass through the state.
have been absent from the Hudson River Audubon Society's butterfly
garden at Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers, N.Y., said society President Saul
The only good thing is that monarchs, like other insects, reproduce rapidly and most likely will recover if left alone, he said.