Tag Archives: Marsh Milkweed

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BUTTERFLIES GONE?

In thinking about where have all the butterflies gone, I am reminded of the poignant song written by Pete Seeger “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which although a song about the futility of war, sums up much about the environmental impact of habitat loss. Without wildflower habitat, there will be no pollinators of any sort.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.

Buckeye and Seaside Goldenrod

Where have all the butterflies gone? Different species of butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. For example, some years you may see far greater numbers of Buckeyes, the next year not so much. That same year you may hardly see any Tiger Swallowtails but will the following.

That being said, everyone must realize that every year there are fewer butterflies than the year before. Butterflies thrive in meadows, the very same topography that is the easiest to build upon. Every time a new house or shopping mall is built on a meadow, we decrease not just butterfly habitat, but a whole community of wildlife habitat.

In the above photo you can see a Monarch with a Black Swallowtail flying overhead. This stunning patch of wildflowers and nectar plants was sited in Gloucester at a prime spot for Monarchs to rest and refuel after migrating across Massachusetts Bay. The new home owners ripped out most of the wildflowers and planted the site in a more formal style, with non-native perennials and shrubs. At this location, I would often see Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted and American Ladies, Sulphurs, and many other species. That is no longer true.

Tiger Swallowtail drinking nectar from Joe Pye-weed at the same wildflower patch, no longer in existence.

Butterfly and bee populations are declining overall, not only because of habitat loss, but because of the unbridled use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and home lawn care.

Butterflies are especially sensitive to fluctuations in weather, and also to overall climate change. This year we had a long, cold wet spring. The inclement weather is continuing, too, from a butterflies perspective, because although we are seeing some warmer temperatures the past few days, it has largely been rainy, foggy, or overcast. Butterflies thrive during long stretches of sunny, hot weather. Their wings don’t work very well in the damp and cold. Because of global climate change, we have seen a seven percent increase in precipitation worldwide.

One of the best years I have ever seen for dozens and dozens of species of butterflies, including Monarchs, in the Northeast, was the summer and fall of 2012. That year, we had a warm winter followed by a warm spring, then a warm, dry summer, and a long, warm Indian summer. It was butterfly bonanza that summer and autumn!

Adding to people’s concern is the fact that last year, there was an abundance of spring rain that in turn created an extraordinary wildflower bloom in Texas, which got all the butterflies off to a good start. In 2019, we were seeing Monarchs as early as early June, which was very unusual for Cape Ann. Folks are comparing this year to that of 2019, however, 2019 was not an average year.

Monarchs are a case unto themselves. Their spring and summer numbers largely depend upon an additional variety of conditions, including how successful was the previous year’s autumn migration, whether or not there were nectar providing wildflowers on their northward and southward  migrations, and wind and weather conditions all along their route, from Canada to Mexico.

Note the bar graph in that the eastern population of the Monarchs plummeted by half, according to this year’s spring count by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico.

Particularly in the northeast, the wind patterns during the Monarchs spring northward migration matter tremendously. My friend Charmaine at Point Pelee, in southern Ontario, which is 49 degrees latitude (we are 43 degrees latitude) has been raising and releasing Monarchs for over a month now, while most of us on Cape Ann have only seen a smattering. The Monarchs moved this year in a straight northward trajectory. If the wind does not blow from west to east during some part of their northward migration, far fewer will end up along the eastern shores.

Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod

All is not lost. I am 90 percent certain we will soon be seeing some of our migratory and non-migratory local populations, we just need some good weather. They are later than usual, but not gone entirely.

For so many more reasons, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife and their habitats and see such tremendous, positive change. Despite the current administration’ s extremely harmful stance against the environment, many, many individuals and organizations are gaining a deeper appreciation about the importance of habitats and taking positive action. Many have made it their life’s work. These individuals and organizations are creating wildlife sanctuaries and conserving existing habitats. If the Monarch is declared an endangered species, that will surely bring an added awarenesses and increased federal spending for protecting and creating habitats.

How can you help species such as the Monarchs, which in turn will help myriad species of other butterflies and pollinators)? Plant wildflowers! Both Marsh and Common Milkweed for their northward migration, and lots of nectar-rich later summer blooming wildflowers for their southward migration, including New England Aster, Smooth Aster, Purple-stemmed Aster, Seaside Goldenrod, and Canada Goldenrod.

Monarchs and New England Aster

TWELVE NATIVE MILKWEEDS

Did you know that there are over two hundred species of milkweed (Asclepias) found around the world? Seventy different species are native to North America.

Milkweeds, as most know, are the host plant for Monarch Butterflies. A host plant is another way of saying caterpillar food plant. Monarchs deposit eggs on milkweed plants. Some milkweeds are more productive than other species. For the Northeast region, the most productive milkweed is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The second most productive is *Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). What is meant by productive? When given a choice, the females choose these plants over other species of milkweed and the caterpillars have the greatest success rate. In our own butterfly garden and at at my client’s habitat gardens, I grow both side-by-side. The females flit from one plant to the next, freely depositing eggs on both species.

This fun chart shows some of the most common species of milkweeds found in North American gardens. *Swamp Milkweed is another common name for Marsh Milkweed.

 

LOSS OF HABITAT, THE USE OF PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES, AND CLIMATE CHANGE ARE HAVING A PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE BUTTERFLIES

IT’S NOT JUST MEXICO’S FORESTS THAT NEED PROTECTING FOR BUTTERFLY MIGRATION

THEIR ROUTE FROM CANADA IS THREATENED BY OVERUSE OF HERBICIDES AND CLIMATE CHANGE, AMONG OTHER FACTORS

Monarch and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Mexico, the United States and Canada must share responsibility for the conservation of the monarch butterfly, according to a biologist who warns that the insect’s North American migratory path is at risk of becoming a thing of the past.

Víctor Sánchez-Cordero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Biology and Mexico’s lead representative on a tri-national scientific committee that studies the monarch, said that the butterflies’ route from southeastern Canada to the fir tree forests of Michoacán and México state is under threat.

He blames the excessive use of herbicides, changes in the way land is used, climate change and a reduction in the availability of nectar and pollen.

“The commitment to conserve this migratory phenomenon not only focuses on Mexico; it’s a shared responsibility between our country, Canada and the United States,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

The researcher, who along with his team developed a system to monitor the migration of the monarch, said that there is a misconception that the most important – almost exclusive – factor in ensuring the continuation of the phenomenon is the conservation of forests in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (RBMM), located about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City.

That idea “has placed great international pressure on Mexico,” Sánchez-Cordero said before adding that he and his team published an article in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science that shows that the decline in the number of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is not due to deforestation in the RBMM.

Deforestation has been drastically reduced in the past 10 years but butterfly numbers have continued to decline, he said.

“The dramatic reduction in the density of monarch butterflies that arrive at overwintering sites in Mexico doesn’t correlate with the loss of forest coverage, which shows that this factor is not responsible for the population reduction. … Other hypotheses to explain the decrease must be sought,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

One possible cause for the decline, he explained, is that the excessive use of herbicides is killing milkweed, a plant that is a main food source for monarch butterflies and on which females lay their eggs. Less nectar and pollen in the United States and Canada as a result of deforestation is another possible cause, Sánchez-Cordero said.

He added that large numbers of migrating butterflies have perished in Texas and the northeast of Mexico due to drought linked to climate change.

To conserve the migratory phenomenon of the monarch – butterflies fly some 4,500 kilometers to reach Mexican forests from Canada over the course of three to four generations – a network of conservation areas along their migration routes needs to be developed, Sánchez-Cordero said. He also said that the routes followed by the butterflies should be declared protected areas.

“A new conservation paradigm is needed. … It’s something that we [Mexico, the United States and Canada] should build together,” the researcher said.

Monarch Butterfly Seaside Habitat

KIM SMITH MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROGRAM FOR KIDS AT THE SAWYER FREE LIBRARY

Come join us Wednesday morning from 10am to 11am at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be sharing Monarch fun with young people. We have art activities, as well as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, and possibly a butterfly or two emerging on the day of the program. I hope you can join us!

This program is held in conjunction with the Cape Ann Reads exhibit currently on view at the main floor of the Sawyer Free.

2019 has been an amazing year for Monarchs. We got off to a very early and fantastic start, but then with a wave of cool rainy weather the Monarch movement slowed considerably. Despite the slow down, we’ve had at least two subsequent waves come through for a total of three broods this summer. Hopefully this will translate to a great 2019 migration followed by strong numbers at the Monarch butterfly’s winter sanctuaries at Michoacán and the state of Mexico.

The eggs we see now on milkweed plants are the super generation of Monarchs that will travel to Mexico!

The photos show the Monarch caterpillar becoming a chrysalis. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar finds a safe place and spins a silky mat. He inserts his last pair of legs into the silky mat and hangs upside down in a J-shape for about a day. Biological developments that began when the caterpillar first emerged are in high gear now. The caterpillar’s suit, or exoskeleton, splits along the center line of the thorax and shrivels as the developing green chrysalis is revealed. The last photo in the gallery shows the moment when the old skin is tossed off.

MONARCH BUTTERFLY FILM UPDATE

A very brief update to let all our Friends know that work is progressing on my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. The new footage from this year’s magnificent migration in Mexico has been added. My amazing team, Eric and Kristen, are plugging in the newly recorded voice over.

For the next several weeks, I’ll be planting my client’s pollinator gardens and getting them underway for the summer. After mid-June, we’ll be back in the editing studio with Eric and Kristen finessing the color correction and audio, with plans for a mid-summer release. Happy Butterfly Days!

Tree-top view – standing at the top of the mountain looking down into the valley below. All the orange bits and flakes in the trees are Monarchs.

In early March, the native wildflower White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) was at bloom in Cerro Pelon and the Monarchs couldn’t get enough of it!

So many Monarchs this early in the season portends a possibly great summer for butterflies in our meadows and gardens. It’s the perfect time of year to plant Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds and many of our local nurseries carry Marsh Milkweed  (Asclepias incarnata) plants. These two species are the most productive for Monarch eggs and caterpillars in our region.

Monarchs mating in a patch of Common Milkweed.

Monarch drinking nectar from Common Milkweed florets.

Female depositing egg on Marsh Milkweed foliage.

The milkweed we grow in the north supports spectacular migrations such as the one that took place this past winter of 2018-2019.

AMAZING!!! MONARCH BUTTERFLIES HAVE ALREADY ARRIVED TO CAPE ANN

There are Monarchs on Cape Ann, and they are laying eggs!!! Check your milkweed Friends! This is nearly a month earlier than usual.

Jane Danekis had a female several days ago in her garden on Revere Street and she deposited over 100 eggs on shoots of newly emerging milkweed.

Michele Del Vecchio saw a Monarch at Good Harbor Beach today, too!

Please let us know if you have seen a Monarch recently, and take a snapshot if you can. Thank you 🙂

A Monarch egg is pale golden yellow in color and shaped like a tiny ridged dome. The egg is no larger than a pinhead.

Morgan Faulds Pike spotted a female Monarch nectaring on her lilacs. Photo courtesy Morgan.

COMMUNITY MILKWEED SEED POD PROJECT FOR THE POLLINATORS!

MILKWEED SEED COLLECTION AND DISTRIBUTION PROJECT SUNDAY OCTOBER 15TH

Collect ripe milkweed seed pods (only Common Milkweed and Marsh Milkweed please). Place in a paper bag, not plastic, as plastic can cause the seed pods to become damp and moldy.

Bring seedpods to Captain Joe and Sons on Sunday morning between 10:30 and noon. Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, East Gloucester.

If you’d like to distribute seeds, meet at the dock between 10:30 and noon and I will show you what to do.

NOTE: It is easy to tell when milkweed seedpods are ripe. The seeds inside turn brown. Do not collect the pods when the seeds are white or green. If you pick them too soon, they will never be viable. You can check the seed pods by slitting the pod a tiny bit and peeking inside.

Any questions, please comment in the comment section or email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you and I hope to see you Sunday morning!

To learn more about how you can help fund the documentary Beauty on the Wing and the Monarch Butterfly Film Online Fundraising event, please visit the film’s website at monarchbutterflyfilm.com.

MONARCH FILM FUNDRAISING SCREENING PARTY

Dear Friends,

This past spring I had a tremendously inspirational experience. Out of the blue, a lovely woman from Concord, Laura Stevens, contacted me about the possibility of viewing my documentary film about the Monarch butterflies, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. I was reluctant at first, explaining that the film was in a rough cut form. Although the rough cut features the butterflies and Cape Ann in the most beautiful light, the film does need finessing.

Laura comes from a wonderful family and they all love Monarchs! Every year, she and her family gather together for a reunion based around a weekend of learning. Laura explained that it would be an extra special treat for the 27 women and children who attend the reunion to see the film. The more I thought about it the more I thought it would be a super idea, and sent her access to the film.

Several weeks passed when in the mail I received the most heartfelt thank you letters from Laura and her family members who had attended the screening, from the ninety-five year old great auntie to the youngest child there. And soon after that, donations towards the film’s completion arrived from this most generous family. I am so grateful to Laura and her family for the donations, and for their kind encouragement and enthusiasm.

At that time the thought crossed my mind that this would be a wonderful way to continue to raise funds for the documentary. Landscape design work and the story of Little Chick and the Piping Plovers has kept me from doing any recent fundraising, but my work typically slows for a brief period during the end of August and beginning of September.

Female Monarch Butterfly and Marsh Milkweed, 2017

Don’t you think it auspicious for my film project that we are seeing so many butterflies this summer? I began documenting the Monarchs in our region in 2006, which was a tremendous year for the Monarch migration through Cape Ann. The year 2012 was quite strong as well, but in the past four years, as the worldwide population has plummeted, so have the Monarchs migrating through our area. Imagine that in 1977 when the Monarchs were first discovered at their winter sleeping grounds, the butterflies were counted by the billions, while today only by the millions.

My hope for Beauty on the Wing is that it will travel to the various conservation and environmental festivals, and then be made available to classrooms around the nation. Another dream for the film is that it will be translated into Spanish and French. Just as American and Canadian children are curious about the butterflies’ winter home after departing their northern breeding grounds, Mexican children are equally curious as to the butterflies’ destination after they leave the butterfly sanctuaries in central Mexico.

The intent of this letter is to learn if amongst our readers there is interest in hosting a screening of the film in its not quite completed form. The purpose of the screening would be to raise money towards the film’s completion and distribution. And, too, I thought it would be a more fun, educational, and personal way to fundraise. To date I have received over $5,000 in generous donations. I am working with the non-profit filmmaker’s assistance group, the Filmmakers Collaborative. Donations made through FC are tax deductible. An itemized budget is available upon request. Beauty on the Wing is 54 minutes long. I thought we could show twenty minutes of highlights and then discuss the current state of the butterflies. Viewer feedback would also be of tremendous help. Screening parties could be so much fun, especially at this time of year during the butterfly’s migration, and especially in 2017 while we are seeing so many Monarchs on the wing.

Readers, what do you think? Please comment on this post or write me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail. Thank you so very much for your time, thoughts, and interest.

Warmest wishes,

Kim

 

Links:

Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly film website

A Flight of Monarchs

Trailer

Film Interview with Doctor Thomas Emmel at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at Sierra Chinqua

#POLLINATORHERO

Bees and butterflies, as we all know, pollinate flowers, but did you know that bats, songbirds, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, moths, flies, midges, and even nasty mosquitoes also deliver pollen from plant to plant?

Flower pollinating Green-eyed Wasp drinking nectar from Common Milkweed florets.

The eyes of the male Green-eyed Wasp are larger than the females, all the better to see her, and predators. Green-eyed Wasps are also known as sand wasps because females excavate burrowing nests in sand (as well as soil).

Male Monarch Butterfly flitting about our garden and drinking nectar from the Marsh Milkweed florets.

Notice the mass of orange Milkweed Aphids in the background. Lady Beetles are another pollinator super hero because they help milkweed plants by eating aphids.

Save the Date for My Upcoming Pollinator Garden Program at the Sawyer Free Library!

Dear Friends,

Please join me April 6th at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be giving my Pollinator Garden program and screening several short films. This event is free and open to the public. I am looking forward to presenting this program at our wonderful Sawyer Free and hope to see you there!!

Female Ruby-throated hummingbird and zinnia – ornithophily is the pollination of flowering plants by birds. They carry off the pollen on their heads and neck to the next flower they visit.

This newly eclosed Monarch is clinging to its chrysalis case. Within moments of emerging, the two-part Monarch proboscis must zip together to form a siphoning tube. If the two parts do not join, the butterfly will not be able to drink nectar. In this photo, you can see the proboscis is not yet fully zipped.

“Following the rhythm of the seasons, celebrated landscape designer Kim Smith presents a stunning slide show and lecture demonstrating how to create a welcoming haven for bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Native plants and examples of organic and architectural features will be discussed based on their value to particular vertebrates and invertebrates.”