Pity the monarch butterflies! Not only do the earnest flutterers fly up to 265 miles a day on their trek back to northern climes, but this year they must do so in the face of a number of challenges.
With strong south winds and unusually warm weather, the leading edge of the migration has already reached Kansas. They usually don’t arrive at this latitude until mid-April. Scientists and butterfly observers alike are on the watch for “ecological mismatch.” Concerns include whether or not milkweed host-plants will be ready for their lepidopteran guests. Will there be a surprise cold snap? Will the unusual weather affect breeding success?
The butterflies are at a critical point. This year's population estimates from Mexico were just announced, with results showing that the population has been reduced by 28% from last year. Deforestation of the overwintering habitat in Mexico continues to threaten the species.
In the north (U.S. and Canada), the butterflies face habitat destruction thanks to new roads, housing developments, and agricultural expansion. They are also up against more subtle forms of habitat destruction in the loss of milkweed, which larvae feed on exclusively.
Considered a pesky nuisance by many, it is often weeded into oblivion. Both milkweed and nectar plants are vulnerable to the herbicides used by landscapers, farmers, and gardeners, and others -- not to mention the lethal impact insecticides have on the butterflies.
Re-establishing milkweed is crucial. “Monarch butterfly populations are declining due to loss of habitat. To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds needs to become a national priority,” said Chip Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch
So if you have an extra patch of dirt, perhaps consider planting some milkweed. In the meantime, you can also help the flitting lovelies by using leftovers to making butterfly food.
Recipe 1Suite101 suggests using a plate feeder. Add fruit that is going bad. Butterflies are particularly fond of sliced, rotting oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, peaches, nectarines apples and bananas. Place on plates and put outside. The mixture can be kept moist by adding water or fruit juice.
Recipe 2From The Butterfly Garden, by Matthew Tekulsky (Harvard Common Press, 1985) comes this formula which makes use of old bananas and flat beer.
- 1 pound sugar
- 1 or 2 cans stale beer
- 3 mashed overripe banana
- 1 cup of molasses or syrup
- 1 cup of fruit juice
- 1 shot of rum
Mix all ingredients well and paint on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps–or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang from a tree-limb.
Recipe 3Master Gardener Bobbie Truell from Texas A & M University recommends this simple alternative food source.
- 4 parts water
- 1 part granulated sugar
1. Boil the solution for several minutes until sugar is dissolved, and then let cool. Serve the solution in a shallow container with an absorbent material such as paper towels saturated with the sugar solution.
2. Bright yellow and orange kitchen scouring pads may be placed in the solution to attract butterflies and give them a resting place while they drink.
3. Place the feeder among your nectar flowers on a post that's 4-6 inches higher than the tallest blooms. Extra solution can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week.