Monarchs Declining!!!

docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)March 17, 2013

Scientist report that the number of Monarchs overwintering in Mexico this year is down 59% from last year, and it has decreased six out of the last seven years. I'm trying to do what I can to encourage as many gardeners as possible to add milkweed to their gardens this year. Asclepias incarnata ( perennial) and Asclepias currasavica (annual) are easy to grow and very popular with Monarchs for both nectar and egg-laying. If you can, I'd love to know that even one extra container of milkweed got planted.

If you are interested in learning more, or even could try raising caterpillars to protect them from predators ( fewer than 1% reach adulthood), visit the Butterfly forum FAQ and ask any questions of the wonderful people there. Monarch Watch is another organization that can provide info and also seeds for common milkweed species.

I'd love to hear back about even the smallest of efforts. If each of us do something little, we can make a big difference. Thanks for listening.

Martha

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tepelus(6a SW MI)

I WS seeds of A. incarnata and A. purpurascens, and have seeds of A. incarnata 'Soulmate' I saved from my plants at my old house in Ohio and leftover seeds from a couple of years ago of A. tuberosa I still need to plant. Waiting to get more jugs. I started sowing late this year, hopefully there's enough cold left to germinate the seeds. Wish I had seeds of A. speciosa left, but I think I used them all, and they weren't mature enough to bloom for me last year to collect any seeds.

Karen

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 1:32PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Docmom, could you please post a link to more information about the numbers this year? I get emails from MonarchWatch and hadn't heard anything as yet.

My property is a certified Monarch Waystation as of 2010. I attempt to grow at least a dozen species of Milkweeds, with greater or lesser success because Asclepias is not always the easiest genus to grow, but I keep trying. I've raised Monarch butterflies since 2008 and released 210 Monarchs last year and tagged 25 for Monarchwatch.

I absolute love these butterflies. It is SO fun to raise them. For wser's that wish to obtain seed, see my "Seed Offer" thread that I just posted. I have 4 or 5 species of milkweed for SASBE.

Happy sowing!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 1:54PM
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adidas(6/7)

Docmom,
I have sown all the Asclepias seeds you very kindly sent me. Some in containers, others among the dogbane and already established Asclepias syriaca. I am in zone 6 and it's too early for anything to germinate just yet but my fingers are crossed! Plus, I am surrounded by a forest of spice bushes (Lindera benzoin) and pawpaws....don't *think* monarchs use these species but the zebra swallowtails and spicebush swallowtails do....

I'm also growing a ton of butterfly friendly natives....I live in a forest....hoping maybe I can spread some of the wildflowers around the area :)

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 2:58PM
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Carolinaflowerlover NC Zone 7b

Terrene, where do I find your post? Thx!

P.S. Duh...I just found it. Thx! :)

This post was edited by carolinaflowerlover on Sun, Mar 17, 13 at 16:48

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 4:47PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Here is a link.

Martha

Here is a link that might be useful: Mexico Monarchs

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 5:26PM
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vajeff(7b VA)

I planted several species of asclepias last year. The monarchs loved the asclepias currasavica that never made it into the ground (but was overwintered!). They utterly devoured it within two days and moved on to what I believe was asclepias incarnata. Asclepias tuberosa wasn't one of their favorites, but I did find a few on those. Hopefully, the plants will return this year and grow even larger. I can't remember if I planted asclepias syriaca, but I guess we'll find out this year.

Almost all of my monarchs emerged from their chrysalis and flew away. I found most of them along the soffit about 8ft above or in the brugmansia. They seemed to prefer climbing higher near the plant rather than traveling further away but closer to the ground. Unfortunately, I had to refrain from the use of pesticides while they were present, so certain bugs got to run free during that time. Other than that, it's very easy to raise monarchs. Give them a healthy asclepias and a sheltered location for their transformation and watch them grow.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 11:04PM
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lilykit64(5)

Terene- How does someone start raising butterflies ??

This post was edited by lilykit64 on Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 15:18

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 3:17PM
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ivetamay

I had planted a lot of milkweed for the caterpillars as well as flowers for adult butterflies but I have also noticed a decline: I found many caterpillars in 2011 (like the one on my photo) and none in 2012. Perhaps lack of food is only one of many factors that contribute to the decline?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 7:38PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Lily kit,
Go to the Butterfly Garden forum and read their FAQ. To raise butterflies, you just need to know where to find the eggs or caterpillars, and have a reliable supply of their host plant that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals. Many of us have been growing host plants long enough that the butterflies lay eggs in our yards. When I first started, I'd walk along the roads in the country and search the wild milkweed plants for eggs or caterpillars. I'd bring them home and feed them with plants from my garden. Good luck, and post on the butterfly forum if you have questions.

Martha

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 10:32PM
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Edie(5 NY (Finger Lakes))

I'm just starting to plant specifically for butterflies. I rent and this will be my second spring in this apartment. This place has a real yard! Even better, I have permission to garden in specific areas of the yard. Last year I WS'd and planted out A. incarnata and A. tuberosa. This year I've sown A. syriacus and more incarnata, and have curassavica to sow when I do annuals. (Thanks molanic and bakemom for the seeds!) A couple of years ago I didn't even know there was more than one milkweed. Still have a lot to learn.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 11:34PM
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northerner_on(Z5A ONCanada)

Now that I think about it there must be a decline. I started sowing Soulmate some years ago and in the last two years, I have seen absolutely no caterpillers, and just a few butterflies. In contrast, there was a sudden influx of Admiral butterflies, also Painted Ladies and Swallowtails, but no Monarchs. Soulmate grows very easily for me (WS), but is short-lived so I plant it every year. What worried me last year was the shortage of bumble-bees, and lots of them seemed stunned, without their usual energy. Seems we are killing our planet. So unfortunate.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 3:07AM
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terrene(5b MA)

That is a really depressing article, Docmom. That is a drastic decline in this beautiful species. I suspect that the agricultural practices in the North America, both in the US where we are blanket spraying herbicides on GMO crops, and in Canada (where milkweed is considered a noxious weed) are contributing greatly to this problem.

On growing milkweeds: The perennial species are generally slow growing and take about 3 years to bloom, with Swamp milkweed being one exception. However - Monarch females will lay eggs on small first year seedlings! In fact, they seem to seek out the small plants - the low profile and harder to find small plants might be a way to avoid predators.

I would also highly recommend growing tropical milkweed - Asclepias curassavica. This grows as an annual in zones 1-9, blooms the first year, and Monarchs LOVE it for laying eggs. I think it is relatively easy to grow for Asclepias.

Some people think that you should only grow species native to your region, but frankly I think the Monarchs need all the help they can get.

A picture of a female laying eggs on a tiny milkweed plant in the middle of my "milkweed field", where I collect eggs and leaves for the cats. Can you see her? I followed her around collecting eggs after she laid them.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 2:15PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Lilykit, just saw your question here about raising butterflies. I started by creating butterfly gardens and reading the Butterfly forum here, but I didn't have the nerve to raise them. There is a poster on the Butterfly forum named Tdogmom, who is an elementary school teacher and she has a website on butterflies. After reading her website, I thought "that doesn't sound so hard". And I jumped in!

Monarchs do have some issues, as they are susceptible to predators and some diseases. These are not impossible to deal with. I get more scientific and increase the number of releases each year. I've also raised 2 species of Swallowtails.

The link to Tdog's website. Scroll down a little, there is a section called "What do I need to raise Monarchs?"

Here is a link that might be useful: My Monarch Guide

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 2:16PM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

By far the largest decline in milkweed in the U.S. is roadside mowing by counties and states. A study by Iowa State University found that theis removed hundreds of times more than removal of milkweed by farmers. Studies also proved pretty conclusively that Bt corn (and other GMO crops) had nothing to do with the decline of monarch butterflies in the U.S.

One Smithsonian entomologist has been quoted as saying more monarch butterflies die on car windshields every year than die from GMO crops.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 3:28PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Kimka, I am a little perplexed about the roadside mowing. Haven't counties mowed the roadsides forever?? Or is that more of a problem only in the last decade?

I figured that a more recent problem was the blanket spraying of herbicides that roundup ready crops can tolerate. This might be killing the weeds along the edges where milkweed has previously grown. I am not trying to demonize GMO crops here, although I'm not convinced they're safe either.

Do you have a link to the Iowa study? Studies can be suspect, especially if they are sponsored by the corporations that manufacture the product being studied!

One other factor in the drastic drop in Monarch numbers might have been the drought in the midwest last summer, which probably resulted in poor-quality milkweed resources.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 3:55PM
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ladyrose65

Since everyone is proactive in helping the butterflies, I give you heads up, Birds are rapidly declining from lack of food due to forest degradation, increasing agriculture lands and building. You all might want (if you have not) put up bird feeders. Help them out. I got a squirrel problem they get into the feeders and they attack the little sparrows!
If you all know a way to get them under control, let me know.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 8:41PM
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caryltoo Z7/SE PA

NPR had a story on the monarchs yesterday. I think the guest was from Monarch Watch. I've tried repeatedly to grow milkweed (incarnata) with little success. The seeds sprout and the plants grow fine until I put them in the garden. Maybe I need to find another spot or maybe I should try the annual.

It's nice to see that people are concerned about what we're doing to the planet. Most people see bees and freak out. Most don't know the difference between a bee and a wasp or hornet. My husband and brother own a pest control company and it's one of the most common calls in the summer. We routinely tell folks that we'll send someone out, but if the problem turns out to be honeybees we refer them to a beekeeper to come and save the nest. Even then, some will say can't you just kill them. No, we can't (or won't, rather).

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 7:42AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Caryltoo,
Even wintersown seedlings have died on you? What kind of sun exposure and soil do you have? I've grown A. Incarnata for years and in quite variable soils and sun, but they've a always been very carefree. They have also been the Monarch favorite for laying eggs in my yard. I'm going to try the tropical currasavica for the first time this year. Mostly because of the dramatic decline. I'm going to try to search for Monarch eggs along the roads and bring them home to raise. The currasavica will be my back up food supply if my perennial plants are not enough to feed the cats. I pray that I will have such a problem.

Martha

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 11:13AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Caryltoo, the seedlings may be being eaten by slugs. Slugs are one of the usual suspects when seedlings disappear or get mangled, and they love Asclepias.

I used to have nice A. incarnata plants but the past couple years neither the established plants, nor seedlings have grown well. I am not 100% sure, but suspect slugs. This year I am going to put out some slug bait (the organic iron phosphate kind like Sluggo).

It's really enlightening to go out at night with a flashlight and check plants too. Slugs, earwigs, beetles, etc. come out and night and love to feast on plants.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 12:17PM
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caryltoo Z7/SE PA

Martha and Terrene, thanks for the response. The soil is actually pretty good, lots of worms and almost full sun. I've never noticed a lot of slugs around, but we do have grubs. I think the problem is they're getting crowded out, or maybe I just don't water them enough. I assume they're called swamp milkweed for a reason?

And yes, they were ws and looked really hardy when they went in. They grew fine at first, but just never seemed to thrive. I also didn't realize (duh) that they were perennials, and I think I was disappointed that they didn't really bloom.

There is also a chance that because I didn't know they were perennials I wasn't looking for them when I did my initial spring weeding and pulled them up. I put in three last year, and one even half-heartedly put out a few blooms late, so I'll look for them if it ever gets warm enough to work in the garden. Where is spring? We were so spoiled here last year with a warm winter that this year seems interminable.

Also, do the monarchs like Butterfly Bushes? We have several of those and most years they seem to be covered with butterflies, including monarchs. My husband said he thinks there might have been fewer last year, but that might be revisionist history since he, too, just heard about the decline.

Caryl

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 7:31AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Caryl A. when you find Spring can you please send it our way? Haha

Hope you have better luck with the A incarnata this year. It is a great plant. I was looking at some pics I've taken over the past couple years of the ailing plants, and something progressively eats ALL the foliage on the plants. Whatever it is, they even "pinch" the stems and leaves first before eating it all. This is a trick that Monarch caterpillars use to stop the flow of the sappy milk in the leaves and stems before they munch away - looks like this pesky bug is doing it too! This year I need to get to the bottom of this.

Monarchs love Buddleia, as do most pollinators. I have a big Black Knight out in the front garden and when I release 5 or 10 Monarchs on one day, the next day there are usually 3 or 4 on the Butterfly Bush stocking up on nectar. It's delightful! The neighbors probably enjoy it too, as they walk by on the sidewalk.

Apparently Buddleia is invasive in some regions though.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 10:37AM
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pghgardengirl(6b SW PA)

Caryltoo: I got excited because I thought I spotted a Monarch in my garden last year but upon researching, I realized the butterfly I saw was much smaller and was probably a Viceroy based on the details of the lower wings.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 10:53AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Caryltoo,
Don't give up on the milkweed coming back too soon. Milkweed is one of the later plants to start poking up from the ground in my yard. It's pretty tough and should have multiplied so you'll have several stalks where you had one before.

Martha

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 8:33PM
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caryltoo Z7/SE PA

Good to know, Martha. No using the mantis to clear the early weeds in that spot this year :) Bought a pack of A. tuberosa yestereday, too, and will put that out in the next few days. It's snowing/raining here this morning so it's still ws time even if the calendar says otherwise.

Caryl

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 6:07AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

Spring emergence of A. tuberosa

Karen

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 7:10AM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

Sorry, it has been a while since I've been back tot he string.

Here are the papers I mention above

Occurrence of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in cropland and adjacent areas
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261219400000247

Impact of Bt corn pollen on monarch butterfly populations: A risk assessment
http://www.pnas.org/content/98/21/11937.short

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 1:53PM
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tiffy_z5_6_can(5/6)

Ivetamay,

What a wonderful photo! Thanks for posting.

Martha,
Thanks for bringing this to the forefront again.
I will be helping out again this year. I truly missed raising these beauties in the last two years. Just moved to a property where I have carte-blanche to create gardens I wish. Looking forward to seeing the Monarchs return this year!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 9:31PM
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caryltoo Z7/SE PA

Finally a nice day so I ventured into the garden. Two of my 3 incarnata plants still have their markers so I'll keep an eye out for their return. Nothing much coming up yet, except the weeds, the primroses and one tiny little lupine leaf. Even the malva and the hollyhocks have yet to break through, but the weather is definitely trending up. Lots of sprouts with seemingly more every day.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 12:23PM
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saponaria

I have two winter sown jugs here of the annual milk weed. I'd always wanted to grow it. Read about the monarch decline and went ahead and ordered the seed. Hope it germinates and does well!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 1:29PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I've been saving my tropical milkweed seeds for warmer temps, but hear it can be slow. I'll get it in next weekend.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 11:33PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I planted my A. Currasavica seeds today. I wanted to spring sow them outdoors, but some people have said they grow slowly. So, I planted them into potting mix and put them under my light to try to get a jump on the season. Hopefully, I'll get germination and eventually successful transplant outside to the garden. Then I just need to find Monarch eggs or cats to raise.

We should keep lines of communication open so we know who has found eggs and who has healthy supplies of milkweed to keep the cats healthy and well fed. It's too bad we don't understand more about how the Monarch's navigation system works. I don't know what kind of an effect transporting the eggs or cats away from the place they were "born" might have on their ability to continue the migration successfully. It still seems like it's pretty important to improve their chances of survival, at least in the short run.

Martha

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 4:07PM
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