Posts Tagged: Danaus plexippus
When a monarch butterfly comes fluttering through your yard, grab your camera. Marvel at it beauty, celebrate its presence, and keep it in your memory. It may be become an endangered species the way things are going.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently reported that the monarch population has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years. And, “during the same period it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.”
So a trio—Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society—filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species status to protect the monarch (Danaus plexippus).
The widespread loss of milkweed, the butterfly's host plant, especially throughout the Midwest, is troubling.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says there's plenty of milkweek in Northern California. “The problem is that nobody's there to breed on it.” For example, he sees large spreads of milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) around his many monitoring sites, including one by the Vacaville (Calif.) Transit Center. “Probably 75 stems, but I have never ever seen a monarch there, let alone any evidence of breeding." (See his entry on monarchs on his website.)
So, a monarch's solo visit to our little bee garden seems like a major event. When we see one, as we did Sept. 17, it heads straight for the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window. What a gorgeous butterfly, worthy of the royal name, “monarch!”
The only question is: will we consider it worthy enough to save it?
- Plant milkweed, its host plant.
- Avoid insecticides or herbicides.
- Become a citizen scientist and help record sightings.
- Support conservation efforts.
- Promote public awareness.
Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation issued news today that is both disturbing and hopeful.
Disturbing in that the monarch butterfly population (Danaus plexippus) has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years.
Hopeful in that the monarch may receive federal protection through the Endangered Species Act.
The Xerces Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower, have filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the monarch through the Endangered Species Act. The agency must respond within 30 days as to whether the petition warrants further review.
“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” related Lincoln Brower, preeminent monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.
Tragicallly, the monarchs have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat, including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds that contain their host plant, milkweed. The female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and this is the only food their larvae eat.
As Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, told us today: "Might be too little too late but they have to preserve/conserve milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) That's more important than the butterfly itself."
Xerces earlier sounded the alarm on the critical role that milkweeds play in the monarch's life cycle.
Senior scientist Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity, hammered home this point in the news release: “The 90 percent drop in the monarch's population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”
And the loss of habitat is equal in size to the state of Texas.
The news release said that the butterfly's dramatic decline is "being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields."
Science policy analyst Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety was quoted as saying: "The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in cropland that dominates the Midwest landscape. Doing what is needed to protect monarchs will also benefit pollinators and other valuable insects, and thus safeguard our food supply.”
Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back, the news release said.
"The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded," according to the release. "The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl, and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the monarch's entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms."
Endangered species director Sarina Jepson of the Xerces Society worries--and rightfully so--that the monarch may become extinct, just like the passenger pigeon.
We are, too. We've seen only two--two--of these majestic butterflies fluttering in our family bee garden this year.
Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Just call it "The Battle Over the Tithonia."
A female monarch butterfly--gender identified by butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology--fluttered into our bee garden early this morning and dropped down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Her landing was perfect. The monarch (Danaus plexippus), a species that Sharpio rightfully says "requires no description"--claimed her flower as several male long-horned sunflower bees, Melissodes agilis, began targeting her.
Talk about a friendly "welcoming party." Not!
Those Melissodes agilis aren't called "agile" Melissodes agilis for nothing.
The monarch zipped over to another Tithonia, only to be trailed by the Melissodes dive bombers.
After foraging on her third flower and failing to evade the tactical squad, the monarch apparently figured it just wasn't worth her efforts.
Off she went, escorted out of the bee garden by the bomb squad.
A male sunflower bee, Melissodes agilis, targets a monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Watch your backside! (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Head to head: a monarch and a Melissodes square off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's good to see so many scientists and citizen scientists taking an avid interest in monarchs.
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), probably the most recognizable of all the butterflies, is known for its long migratory route from Canada to Mexico.
We spotted a beautiful monarch last Sunday afternoon in Fair Oaks, Calif. as it foraged for nectar from an appropriately named "butterfly bush" (Buddleia davidii).
We watched the monarch glide, drop down, and nectar on the blossoms--a beautiful sight to see. The larval host plant is the milkweed, also a beautiful sight to see--especially when the caterpillars "decorate" the leaves. From an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalid to an adult, the life cycle should be one of the seven wonders of the world.
Meanwhile, there's a major monarch event taking place Friday, June 6 at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. It's an all-day symposium about monarchs and their conservation, "Make Way for Monarchs: Alliance for Milkweed and Butterfly Recovery." Speakers include Lincoln Brower, Karen Oberhauser, Chip Taylor, Gary Nabhan, and Scott Hoffman Black. An organization called makewayformonarchs.org conducts "research on monarch butterfly recovery and promote positive, science-based actions to avert food web collapse in the milkweed community and the further demise of the monarch migration to Mexico," according to the Chicago Botanic Garden website promoting the Friday event. "They aim to promote social engagement to implement tangible solutions in midwestern landscapes through collaborative conservation."
There's also a MonarchWatch organization dedicated to restoring the Monarch butterfly populations.
More closer to home, Oakland parks supervisor Tora Rocha of the Pollinator Posse is spearheading a drive to rear monarchs. She posts many photos of the caterpillars and adults on the Pollinator Posse Facebook page. Check out the YouTube video featuring her, the monarchs and the Pollinator Posse.
"It's addicting," she says.
Want to help? Listen to the YouTube video and accept her invitation "to come join us."
A monarch butterfly on a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly finds just the right blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
At times, the monarch resembles a strained glass window. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The mighty Monarch butterfly and the industrious honey bee.
How rare we see them together on the same flower.
But that was the case last Friday at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis.
The butterfly touched down on a brilliant orange Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and began nectaring. A honey bee crawled up the petals. So there they were, sharing nectar. They saw one another. They acknowledged one another. And they ignored one another.
Finally, the bee buzzed off to forage on her very own Mexican sunflower.
It was a butterfly-bee moment. Or more technically, a Danaus plexippus/Apis mellifera moment.
Two may be company, but sometimes it's best to get your own flower.
Monarch butterfly watches as a honey bee crawls up a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bottoms up! A honey bee makes herself at home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two's company--a Monarch butterfly and a honey bee share nectar from the same flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)