Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where are the Monarch Butterflies?

Last month I was asked why we aren’t seeing any monarch butterflies this year. I had no answer. Well, I had an answer, but it wasn’t the answer this person was likely seeking. I looked back through my records of when monarchs are first seen each year, and discovered that when I first started keeping track, we didn’t really see monarchs until mid- to late summer; in other words, mid-July and August. Two years ago I saw my first one at the end of May.

This year, however, July came and went with only a couple monarch sightings. Now August is chugging along towards the halfway mark, and I can still probably count on one hand the number of monarchs I’ve seen. Milkweed plants are conspicuously unmunched, as are the butterfly weeds all around my gardens.

According to the folks over at Monarch Watch, the 2009 season started off with above average temps, but this soon changed as a cool and damp summer unfolded. As a result, successful reproductive efforts have been limited, and this has likely been the cause for so few monarchs making their way to the Adirondacks and Canada. After all, why keep going further north when it is already cool where you are?

As spring begins rolling up the continent, monarchs begin their northward migration. It takes several generations for the butterflies to make it to their furthest northward destinations in Canada. Once they get as far north as they are going to go, the seasons turn from summer to fall, and it is time to head back south. This time, however, it is the last generation that emerges up north that makes the entire trip southward.

Reading through the monitoring notes over at Monarch Watch, it looks like the scientists are not too worried about the overall population at this point. The key will be to see how many monarchs make it to the winter roosts in Mexico.

In the meantime, this gives us a chance to enjoy some of the other butterflies that call the Adirondacks home in the summer. I, for one, saw many tiger swallowtails this summer (a couple just last week), and am just now enjoying the lovely yellow sulphurs flitting about my gardens. The arctic fritillary, however, has been my favorite – it has generously allowed me to sneak up on it to snap its portrait while it imbibed from my flowers.


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Ellen Rathbone is by her own admission a "certified nature nut." She began contributing to the Adirondack Almanack while living in Newcomb, when she was an environmental educator for the Adirondack Park Agency's Visitor Interpretive Centers for nearly ten years.

Ellen graduated from SUNY ESF in 1988 with a BS in forestry and biology and has worked as a naturalist in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont.

In 2010 her work took her to Michigan, where she currently resides and serves as Education Director of the Dahlem Conservancy just outside Jackson, Michigan.

She also writes her own blog about her Michigan adventures.

4 Responses

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