Where are the monarch butterflies? Shortage worries experts
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
DUBUQUE COUNTY (KWWL) -
An alarming trend has eastern Iowa nature lovers asking: Where are all the monarch butterflies?
Every time at this year, millions of monarch butterflies are supposed to make their great migration from America's northern states east of the Rocky Mountains down to Mexico for the winter. That's more than 2,000 miles, with the insects traveling more than 25 miles a day.
In recent years, however, the number of monarchs has dwindled.
At a monarch tagging event Friday at Dubuque County's Swiss Valley Nature Center, two naturalists led a group of around 20 park visitors on a 90-minute tour through prime monarch butterfly habitat.
The tagging process is simple. It involves putting a small sticker with a marking number on the butterfly's wing. However, Dubuque County naturalists didn't get to use any this year.
The group didn't spot a single one of the orange butterflies.
"We gotta have at least one today," Dubuque County naturalist Jenny Ammon said, as she led the group on the final push of the ultimately fruitless search.
"This has never happened -- where you have brought this many people out and have gone through habitats where you see goldenrod and you see astors and you see plenty of the plants they should be feeding on, and not having the numbers," Ammon said.
Hana Velde was one of the park visitors. She brought her three-year-old son Mica and six-year-old daughter Rian to the event, both of whom excitedly toted their butterfly nets throughout the park.
Those nets, however, remained empty.
"Last spring, I remember, we found monarch eggs on our milkweed plants in our yard, and that was really thrilling," Velde said. "We didn't see any this year, so that's, you know, right there at home we have seen a notable lack of monarchs."
While experts don't know the exact cause for this decrease, they do cite factors such as extreme weather and deforestation.
Allie Schmalz co-led Friday's tagging event. She's a seasonal naturalist intern for Dubuque County.
"When they were doing the counts down in Mexico this past winter, it's the lowest number that they've ever gotten, so perhaps something happened when they were migrating back this year," Schmalz said. "Our weather's been really, really funky. We've had droughts, floods, droughts again, so these crazy weather patterns that we're getting might have something to do with it as well."
Monarch butterflies' host plant is milkweed, which they eat and on which they lay their eggs. They also eat nectar from flowers, so Swiss Valley's tall grasses with flowers and milkweed should be filled with monarchs right now-- but they're not.
"It's pretty depressing, actually, that we're not seeing them this year," Schmalz said.
During the winter, the monarchs hibernate in trees in the mountains of Central America. Experts cite illegal deforestation of those trees as another reason for dropping numbers.
"There's a whole slew of things that are stacked against these small, little critters," Ammon said. "To be honest with you, if you were asked to pick one amazing animal, there's a lot of people that'd say monarch. They weigh less than a gram, they move twice a year over 2,000 miles."
Sunday, March 9 2014 10:45 PM EDT2014-03-10 02:45:03 GMT
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