This year, I rarely see an adult Monarch butterfly in the fields or in my butterfly garden. There are some out there because they leave evidence– a few tiny Monarch eggs deposited under milkweed leaves. It I search long enough, I might find three or four eggs in an hour. Sometimes I don’t find any.
By mid August 2022, I’d released 160 Monarchs raised in my back porch nursery. It was easy to find eggs on the milkweed that year, so I brought them into the mesh insect crates to protect them from hungry spiders and ants. I also wanted to admire them. I’ve had success protecting them in an outside nursery since 2018, but where were the Monarchs this year? Only a few arrived.
In 2022, last year, my first Monarch flew on June 30. In 2023, one female Monarch showed up in my butterfly garden in late July and left a few eggs on the milkweed leaves before moving on. I picked those leaves with the eggs attached before the spiders devoured them. They hatched and grew on milkweed in my nursery.
I kept looking for eggs as I walked with my dog. I almost never saw a Monarch butterfly but found a few more eggs for the nursery. Eight chrysalises eclosed in mid August and flew up into the trees or went south like migrators. They didn’t hang around in the flowers like June egg layers in the past.
By late August, I’d found forty eggs and a few tiny caterpillars, about ¼ of what I found last year. More Monarchs are spotted in other parts of the country, but they’re rare in the NY Finger Lakes this year.
The Monarch census in Mexico estimated a 22% reduction last spring. This was before the extreme weather of 2023. Besides weather changes, Monarchs lost habitat to loggers who cut down the fir trees where they gather in winter. Over time, their major migration route became corn and soybean fields and herbicides killed much of the milkweed they need to survive. The Monarchs hardly have a chance. It’s heartening to know more people plant milkweed and nectar plants for Monarchs. We’ve become aware of their need for help.
Each Monarch egg I find in my milkweed fields is a miracle. Each is a promise of transformation. As they emerge from the chrysalis and dry their wings, it’s time to leave my protection. They cling to a tree branch or catch a ride from the north wind. It’s a wonder any made it this year with fierce smoky June Canadian winds blowing them west or south and blocking their usual northern trip, but a few made it. I’ve raised about sixty from eggs found in the milkweed fields.
Monarchs are survivors, but for how long? I could ask the same question about every living thing, including myself.
Are you a gardener or grower? Do you avoid sprays that will harm insect pollinators or make an effort to protect habitat such as participating in No Mow May or planting what the pollinators love? My fields have been loaded with milkweed since I moved here in 1972 and we never sprayed. Let me know if you’re doing something to protect pollinators or wildlife to help their odds for survival. You can learn more about protecting butterflies at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
For other posts about Monarchs, see Dancing with Monarchs, Defying Despair. To see a series of photos about the transformation of a chrysalis to a Monarch butterfly, see Somersaulting into Life: A Monarch Butterfly Birth (in Photos).