2022 Monarch Butterfly Report: A Mystery

News Brief by Kip Hansen – 21 March 2022

The magical marvelous Monarch Butterfly is surging – they are ramping up – populations numbers are skyrocketing!  That is to say, according to Monarch censuses, the numbers of migrating Monarchs overwintering in both the Western Migration and the Eastern Migration have vastly improved over last year.

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and their annual North American migration represent  one of the mysteries of the animal kingdom, with their so-far inexplicable ability to produce one generation each year capable of traveling up to 2,500 miles and then, even after such a long journey for such a small insect, overwintering, without any eating, until Spring, at which time they fly north again eating and mating along the way.

Monarchs feed on flower nectar, like other butterflies, but in order to breed, they require milkweed plants, on which they lay their eggs.  Although milkweed is slightly poisonous, monarch caterpillars will only eat milkweed leaves.  It is believed that changing agricultural practices to suppress weeds and the widespread mowing of highway verges has greatly reduced the available milkweed for monarchs and contributed to their declining numbers.

And this last winter? 

The Western Migration (and see map above) showed a fabulous comeback.  According to the Xerces Society, the western migration for the 2021-2022 season was a great success with upwards of 250,000 monarchs found overwintering known sites along the southern California coast from Monterey south to San Luis Obispo.  Xerces says this is “an over 100-fold increase from the previous year’s total of less than 2,000 monarchs and the highest total since 2016.”

How can this be so?  No one is really sure.  For any closely watched annual natural phenomena to increase by 100 times in a single year is more than a little unusual. 

However, it is not strange at all to those who are familiar with real-world population dynamics.  It is possible that the Western Monarch population may be acting like an “island species”  in which local abundance or scarcity of sources and intra-species competition control species population size.  In these conditions, the mathematical formulas of population dynamics show definite chaotic features, including population crashes and booms  (see the graphic of May Island Squirrel Population).  The actuality of this type of chaotic behavior has been confirmed in the natural world many times.

Monarchs, however, are capable of living year-around in the southern parts of California and the northern parts of Mexico and are found quite commonly living and breeding at all times of the year.  This means that not all the monarch west of the Rockies take part in the annual migration.  Many just do what humans often do, they move to southern California for the winter and get on with their normal lives.  For monarch, that means mating, laying eggs, dying, and the new generation hatches as caterpillars which eat milkweed and pupate to become new monarchs.  Tagging efforts have shown that some few Western Monarchs may even migrate to the same sites in Central Mexico as the Eastern Monarchs. 

Extinction fears for the Western Monarch are not about a real extinction of Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains, but rather the fear that the Western Monarch Migration will cease to exist:  “…in 1983, the IUCN took the unprecedented step of creating a new category in the Invertebrate Red Data Book, in order to list the monarch migration as a Threatened Phenomenon. This is because the numbers of American migrants are falling sharply. Figures for 1997-2016 show a 74 percent decline in California’s overwintering monarchs.”  And last year, the numbers for the western migration were vanishing small….almost nonexistent.

Possibly contributing to the increase has been quite a bit of citizen-group action in the West to plant milkweed both in home gardens and on public lands and to discourage the mowing of roadway verges there.  This type of action is popular in the UK as well.

And the Eastern United States Migration?

Here we run into a dearth of data….because of Covid!  The usual data sources:  butterfly counts along the migration route north to south were curtailed or abandoned entirely due to (unfounded) fears of being either in groups of humans or even in some cases the fear of being outdoors. 

Last November, Monarch watchers east of the Rocky Mountains had mixed opinions on how the season would turn out.

“Karen Oberhauser, founder of monarch butterfly citizen science organization Monarch Joint Venture and professor of restoration ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said she’s cautiously optimistic about summer breeding activity and anecdotal reports of high numbers seen during the fall migration.   “I hope … it translates into good numbers in Mexico,” she said.” [ source ]  In the same report, “Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, was less enthusiastic and suggested that the eastern monarch migration population will decline this year. He pointed out that late migrations historically make for smaller overwintering populations.”

The usual sources of census data for the Eastern Monarch Migration have been silent the last 2 years – figures are usually published in February by Mexico’s CONANP – Comisión National de Áreas Naturales Protegidas.  Last year there was not official announcement (that I could find).  The Monarch Sanctuaries in Mexico were officially closed to visitors because of Covid.  I am not sure how this prevented the rangers and researchers from performing their usual census, but either they did not do so, or it is running late.

The latest population data for the eastern migration is from the winter of 2019-2020:

I am attempting to get an official  number for the 2020-2021 season – but have had no luck so far.  The best I have found is a comment made by Monarch Watch’s  Chip Taylor in his post on the 6th January 2022:

“Last year my estimate for the hectare total was almost spot on – 2.0 hectares vs a measured 2.01 hectares. It was more of a guess than a data-based prediction, but I’ll take credit for being close. There are reasons to think I will be close again this year and other reasons to predict that the number will be higher.” (said while predicting another drop in population for 2021-2022).

I have information from local Monarch researchers in Mexico who report that CONANP may release a census soon (it has not as of 20 March 2022).

I can only offer this good news from an eye-witness account:

“But in our estimation, in the Cerro Pelón Sanctuary,  there was doubling of the butterflies from last season.”  (personal communication — paraphrased for language differences)

Cerro Pelón Santuario (or reserve) is only one of the locations where eastern migrating monarchs roost in huge masses to overwinter.  It located in the mountains about 60 miles northeast of Mexico City:

Other major monarch reserves are all located in the same general area.  Cerro Pelón is shown in the middle.  The major roosts are within the yellow area, with minor roosts scattered around in the buff region shown.

So we have an encouraging but partial and unofficial report from the scene in Mexico, which gives us this general picture:

If our unofficial estimate for this year is correct and verified, eastern monarchs are making a slow but steady comeback. When and if CONANP releases an official number, I will make an updated report.

Bottom Line:

The Western Monarch Migration, which just last year was predicted to vanish completely, has pulled a marvelous “rabbit-out-of-a-hat” trick on all the nay-sayers, doom promoters and all-is-lost-ers.  Experts and advocates are entirely thrilled and mystified by the 100-fold increase in roosting monarchs in the 2021-2022 winter.  Seeming absolutely impossible to some experts, a mere 2,000 surviving migrating monarchs, only a percentage of whom could have been female, apparently managed to breed the population up to 250,000 in a single season (which is composed of several generations). 

The Eastern Monarch Migration is shrouded somewhat in the fog created by the Covid pandemic with official census numbers missing and/or unreliable.  Opinions from monarch expert in the United States range from optimistic to pessimistic.  Partial information from on-the-scene experts at Cerro Pelón gives us hope that things are at least holding steady.

# # # # #

Author’s Comment:

The news from California is intriguing and the confusion of the experts terrifically amusing.  I think many of the experts were counting on being able to say “We told you so!  Now the western monarch migration is extinct and it is your fault.”  [ here and here ].  Early on, with the Thanksgiving Monarch Count in California, things were looking good, but experts were still moaning and denying recovery.  I hope to find time to write a longer piece detailing the conservation efforts underway, the speculation on the biologically impossible surge in the population and other fascinating aspects of this larger story.

Our on-site reporter is Joel Moreno Rojas who operates the JM Butterfly B&B in Macheros, Mexico, adjacent to the Cerro Pelón reserve. “The business quickly turned Macheros into a popular butterfly tourist destination. …. directly employing more than a dozen people as guides, translators, cooks, servers, drivers and housekeepers in winter, as well as 3-4 construction and maintenance workers year-round”. Maybe next winter, I will go and stay for a week or two.

POST-PUBLICATION NOTE: Joel Moreno Rojas has established a non-profit “Butterflies and Their People”. They approach the problems of protecting the Monarch this way: “Logging causes habitat loss in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. But people continue to log because they have no other economic options. Our project addresses both issues by hiring local people to protect the butterfly forest. The fate of the monarchs and that of the people who live alongside them are intimately interconnected: we cannot safeguard one without safeguarding the other.”

In the meantime, this spring remember to plant a few native milkweeds in your flower garden.  If you belong to a local conservation group, get them to advocate for the state and country road maintenance departments to spare roadside milkweed patches.  If you have young children (5-15), search out monarch caterpillars, capture and raise them to maturity and let your kids witness the miracle of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation.  There are instructions online.  Once the butterfly has emerged and the wings are fully dry, release the butterfly onto nectar-producing flowers in your garden.  Be aware – it will fly away in a day or so – so make sure your kids know this in advance.

Nature is full of surprises!

Thanks for reading.

# # # # #

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IanE
March 22, 2022 6:07 am

Well, Lorenz did keep telling people about butterfly wings!

Last edited 2 months ago by IanE
Eric H
Reply to  IanE
March 22, 2022 8:33 pm

We have several milkweed plants in our SoCal yard. Both in 2020 and 2021 we had at least 20 or so successful chrysalis hatchings…hatching… I think their “2000” surviving is insanely low…unless we had 1% of the population just in our backyard.

Eric H
Reply to  Eric H
March 22, 2022 8:36 pm

Hatchings hatching??

Guess my inner Kamala Harris came out sorry

Red94ViperRT10
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 28, 2022 8:55 pm

My first guess… last winter when they counted only 100, the butterflies were overwintering in places people were not looking for them. End of story.

Timo, Not That One
March 22, 2022 6:17 am

In east Toronto there is growing interest in gardens which encourage butterflys. I have even noticed that milkweed has shown up in city flower gardens. Whether that is done by city employees or clandestinely by local citizens is unknown to me.
It’s fun to imagine that such actions could have had such a positive effect

mkelly
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 9:11 am

Thanks for the link. Growing up in Northern Michigan I only knew of one kind of milk weed.

ozspeaksup
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 3:45 am

hmm our monarchs have a stage where they look like golden aphids then they go caterpillar then pupate

Bruce Ranta
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 2:36 pm

Monarchs can also survive on Spreading Dogbane.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 7:54 pm

Kip,

That reminds me of another experience I had worth sharing. When I was in the Army in the late-1960s, I was stationed in Hanover, New Hampshire. My wife and I were driving around observing the Fall colors in the White Mountains in October. We had stopped at a roadside picnic table for a late lunch. It was cold out. I was sitting at the table eating an apple. A butterfly (I don’t remember if it was a monarch or not) flew up and landed on the apple in my hand and proceeded to feed on the juice in the apple. I was surprised at the time because it was my experience that normally butterflies would keep their distance from me. But, at that time of the year I guess it was hungry enough to throw caution to the wind.

beng135
Reply to  Timo, Not That One
March 22, 2022 10:49 am

I transplanted a few of the most common east US milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in front of the house and got this last summer.

MilkweedMonarchCaterpillar2021.jpg
Last edited 2 months ago by beng135
beng135
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 6:17 am

The Painted Lady butterfly also migrates long distances, wintering in central Africa and summering in Europe (somehow making it across the Sahara both ways!).
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190904100743.htm

Last edited 2 months ago by beng135
Red94ViperRT10
Reply to  beng135
March 28, 2022 9:01 pm

My wife proved that milkweed is a limited resource. Now I give her credit, the species of milkweeds she selected and planted produced pretty plants. But… Everything we read said to thin the eggs, before they even hatch. We found out why. We seemed to go from a half dozen cute little striped worms to a denuded plant with a couple of dead striped worms fallen to the ground beneath it in just a day or so.

I think if you remove just about every egg you see (except maybe one, just to make sure), the ones you don’t see will be just about the right population to reach chrysalis stage maybe about the time they eat the last leaf.

Last edited 1 month ago by Red94ViperRT10
fretslider
March 22, 2022 6:38 am

The definition of the word expert – in the 21st century – is someone who doesn’t know their @rse from their elbow; but they do know their politics.

Scissor
March 22, 2022 6:49 am

I’m not an entomologist, but I know a Monarch butterfly when I see one, and I saw the most that I have even seen this past summer in Colorado, east of the Rockies.

Skeptic JR
Reply to  Scissor
March 22, 2022 7:08 am

I have been gardening for years and I find a lot of butterflies and caterpillars do things differently than what the experts claim they will. Not a lot differently, but a little.

John Garrett
March 22, 2022 6:49 am

Kip,
Many, many thanks for this piece.

You cannot imagine the number of my friends and acquaintances who are certain the Monarchs are halfway to extinction.

I will be sending a link to this piece to every last one of them.

Retired_Engineer_Jim
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 9:44 am

Is there a particular type of milkweed upon which Monarchs feed?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 7:58 pm

Milkweeds were common in northern Illinois when I was a boy. I have yet to see any here in SW Ohio.

2hotel9
March 22, 2022 6:52 am

So the butterflies are ignoring the climatards, too. Smart bugs!

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 7:59 pm

Or a smartphone to call home with.

commieBob
March 22, 2022 6:54 am

Ducks Unlimited (DU) started out with the aim of protecting the wetlands needed by migrating waterfowl. link

When I go to the American DU site it looks like the original goal is still operating. ie. there’s useful information on how to train your retriever.

When I go to the Canadian DU site … oh dear … so sad.

There is the Iron Law of Bureaucracy which states that an organization will be taken over by people not dedicated to the original goals of the organization but by those dedicated to the continuation of the organization. ie. the people who actually care about something are replaced by people who want to make a living looking like they actually care.

Environmental groups and professional environmentalists have found that they can make more money by pushing doom and gloom. I just tripped over this dandy analysis of how it works.

1 – Creating unnecessary feelings of guilt, panic and frustration among the general public. Greenpeace then make money off this moral outrage, guilt and helplessness (Section 1).

2 – Vilifying the innocent as “enemies”. Once you have been tarred by Greenpeace’s brush, any attempts to defend yourself are usually treated with suspicion or even derision (Section 2).

3 – Deliberately fighting honest attempts by other groups to tackle the “environmental problems” that Greenpeace claim need to be tackled (Sections 3 and 5).

4 – Distorting the science to generate simplistic “environmental crises” that have almost nothing to do with the genuine environmental issues which should be addressed. (Sections 4-5)

5 – Actively shutting down any attempts to have any informed discussions about what to actually do about the “problems” they have highlighted (Appendices 2-4).

That’s a pretty good description of the climate industry. The most recent example is, of course, the wuflu. Any possible treatments were aggressively suppressed because they would get in the way of the chosen solution, vaccines. Follow the money on that one for sure.

Last edited 2 months ago by commieBob
Old Gobie Jumper
Reply to  commieBob
March 22, 2022 11:18 am

A universal truth: All movements start out as a legitimate cause/need; then become a business; then become a racket. Think about any movement over 20 years old.

Skeptic JR
March 22, 2022 7:07 am

I am a butterfly/caterpillar fan and watch many different species closely I find that many, while they strongly prefer one plant, will sometimes eat a different plant if they favorite is not available. Maybe monarchs are able to sometimes eat a close milkweed relative? I also know many people have been planting milkweed to try to help monarchs, so perhaps their favorite plant is spreading.

DaveW
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 6:48 pm

Same thing with Robins in Edmonton, Alberta. Some now hang around all winter favouring relatively warm microclimates and feeding on the freeze-dried fruit on the trees and bushes in gardens and street plantings. I would assume these year-round residents get first dibs on the best territories in the spring, so being tough enough to survive an Edmonton winter (and lazy enough not to migrate) would be selected for.

ldd
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 7:27 pm

Place called Lake Nipissing – east side of the great lakes. The city there (North Bay) has a water ‘treatment’ plant in the one area right on the lake, you’ll find ducks and geese there all winter long, they know that that spot always stays open (unfrozen) and people feed them, have been for decades, they’ve adapted to it quite well.

Andrew Wilkins
March 22, 2022 7:31 am

I see the Graun us getting it hopelessly wrong again. They really are comedy gold.

Andrew Wilkins
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 10:30 am

True dat

Andrew Wilkins
Reply to  Andrew Wilkins
March 22, 2022 10:31 am

The fact that I’ve spelled “is” incorrectly is apt for a comment about the Grauniad

Oldseadog
March 22, 2022 7:52 am

It would be interesting to find out what, if anything, uses Monarchs as food. Maybe a cause and effect link there?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 8:01 pm

Kip: I was told that the Viceroy butterfly copycat enjoyed the birds attitude to that orange color.

https://butterflywebsite.com/gallery/viceroy-butterfly-pictures.cfm

Rob_Dawg
March 22, 2022 8:04 am

Kp, you report:

> “…overwintering known sites along the southern California coast from Monterey south to San Luis Obispo.”

I can tell you that the southern extent of regular Monarch overwintering is Montecito or even Carpenteria.

Rob_Dawg
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 8:59 am

My BiL has a few acres on the beach across from the polo grounds. They have a line eucalyptus along the cliff. Sometimes those are so crowded with Monarchs they appear orange. Quite a sight to see 100ft tall trees covered in butterflies.

Rob_Dawg
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 11:24 am

At least the last mudslide (Jan 2018) was woke enough to be an equal socio-economic destroyer. The loss of life and property is regretable. Hopefully lessons were learned not least of which is preventative wildlands management.

I suspect the range of the Monarch overwintering is limited by the development and micro-climates from Ventura to Malibu especially the frequent winter wind events across the Oxnard Plain. IIRC the area around the Scripps Institute in La Jolla is a winter home these beautiful creatures.

The Dawghaus near Camarillo has the necessary milkweed and is blessed seasonally.

Rob_Dawg
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 6:32 pm

Not to brag but after the blizzard of April ’83 in New England made the commitment for me. I dropped of my thesis that fall, borrowed $200 from my uncle and traversed every state on the Eastern and southern coasts to end up in Soviet Monika. A short skip west to Ventura County found arguably the best climate on the planet. Never looked back.

Rob_Dawg
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 11:03 am

Admirable that anyone at UCSB in the late 60s even remembers the time. Good on you. 😉

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 8:05 pm

Sounds like the Winter of ’64.

March 22, 2022 8:23 am

> “But in our estimation, in the Cerro Pelón Sanctuary, there was doubling of the butterflies from last season.”

I’m no Spanish speaker, but I’m curious about the Spanish phraseology of this report. In English the word “to redouble” can mean “to double” but usually means “to augment” in the sense of the Spanish “aumentar” or “incrementar” although, according to https://www.wordreference.com/es/translation.asp?tranword=redouble, “redoblar” exists, too, along with reflexive (non-transitive) forms “redoblarse” and “intensificarse.” These are figurative uses. The English word “to double” is directly translated as “duplicar” or “doblar.” Going the other way, I would expect a Spanish speaker explicitly to use “duplicar” to mean “to double,” not “doblar,” which also means “to bend or fold in two,” but that’s just me.

rah
March 22, 2022 9:07 am

According to what I have read the migration from Mexico and back is multigenerational. Three generations required at a minimum for the round trip. So no single butterfly makes the whole rotation.

John Garrett
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 22, 2022 10:29 am

The multi-generational aspect of the monarch migration is truly one of the most astounding and mind-boggling mysteries of nature.

The single generation (of three or more) that makes the astonishing Southbound trip is obviously hard-wired to perform the navigational and physical feat. The geneticists have yet to figure it out.

It is just amazing.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  John Garrett
March 23, 2022 8:08 pm

With so few neurons to code the navigational path!

BrentC
March 22, 2022 9:38 am

I have been observing migratory bird movements in Southern Alberta since I was a kid. I’ve noted the number of overwintering ducks, geese, eagles and other bird species steadily increased as Southern Alberta winters became less lethally-cold through the 1980s. It is obvious to this practical engineer that the birds, given the ability to survive winter in Alberta vs. expending energy and risk to birdshot strikes to fly south, have chosen the easier of the options. Comparing this to the butterflies, it makes sense that these animals have also figured out the easiest way to survive is to stay put if they have all they need locally.

It therefore seems absurd that biologists would be so determined to force animal behaviours simply to please themselves. The butterflies will figure things out on their own, as this article clearly indicates.

Now, if people want monarchs in their gardens for their own enjoyment, that’s another, perfectly acceptable desire. But it shouldn’t be tied to the survivability of the species, IMO.

DaveW
Reply to  BrentC
March 22, 2022 7:02 pm

Monarchs rarely make the flight into central Alberta and can produce one generation over the summer – I had them once in 10 years in Edmonton. I would guess that pretty much most animals that are able migrate are pretty flexible. If you consider the glacial epochs and alternating warmer interglacials that have been present for the last several million years, then you would quickly realise that they must be highly flexible. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool Climate doomster that is.

beng135
Reply to  BrentC
March 23, 2022 6:35 am

Same w/Canada geese — used to migrate from here in east US at least to coastal areas & often farther south, now many are year-long residents here, staying around ponds, lakes and rivers.

Smart Rock
March 22, 2022 9:48 am

A bit off topic, but my only observation about Monarchs is this, after spending a good deal of my life in the boreal forest of Canada. When walking along bush roads or trails, it’s common to see bear droppings, usually positioned precisely in the middle of the trail. And in mid-summer, it’s quite normal to see a pile of bearsh*t covered in up to a dozen Monarchs; I presume they are feeding off it. In a good berry season, bearsh*t is full of undigested blueberries – is that what attracts the butterflies?

Last edited 2 months ago by Smart Rock
TedL
March 22, 2022 12:33 pm

Recent study documents loss of habitat for eastern Monarch populations 2008 – 2016. Good to see signs of recovery indicated at the Mexico Monarch Sanctuaries. 

Cropland expansion in the United States produces marginal yields at high costs to wildlife
Published: 09 September 2020 in Nature Communications
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-18045-z

“Here we assess annual land use change 2008–16 and its impacts on crop yields and wildlife habitat. We find that croplands have expanded at a rate of over one million acres per year,”

Monarch habitat loss : “We estimate that ~220 million (SE ± 189) common milkweed stems were lost due to conversion of grasslands, wetlands, and shrublands to corn and soybean production across the Midwest during our study period. This loss represents 8.5% of the estimated regional total in 2008. The largest reductions occurred in the Dakotas, Iowa, and Missouri”

Gerald Hanner
March 22, 2022 1:05 pm

I’ve seen Monarchs in Hawaii, They don’t migrate.

DaveW
Reply to  Gerald Hanner
March 22, 2022 7:08 pm

The Monarchs (aka Wanderers) in eastern Australia do migrate, or at least some do, although not as spectacularly as in North America. Where I live in the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands, I see Wanderers year round and it is a rare week I don’t see at least one. Our Monarchs are thought to have blown in with a cyclone from New Caledonia (where they had been introduced) in the 1870’s – and they found a paradise of milkweeds ready to eat.

b.nice
March 22, 2022 1:07 pm

Oh no.. Monarch butterfly numbers increasing..

This is all because of “Climate change”, you know.

Its a portent of DOOM !!! 😉

Myron
March 22, 2022 1:28 pm

A few years ago I contacted a professor at Texas A&M that studies Monarchs. I had what turned out to be unfounded concerns about the height of urban structures. I also commented on my livelong observations around Temple, TX. How what used to be native fields are now subdivisions and how I can still find milkweed along rural roads right next to cropland. No milkweed can be found in what is now manicured green lawns in those new subdivisions. This professor’s main concern about Monarchs wasn’t the use of herbicides on cropland. It was the lack of food and water for Monarchs in cities. He said the real risk was Monarchs having to fly over miles and miles of concrete and asphalt. They fatigue and starve before they get across huge cities.

Peta of Newark
March 22, 2022 1:32 pm

Quote:”This type of action is popular in the UK as well.

Following the link in there, to the Grauniad, reveals lots of things about UK folks – or certainly the finger wagging guilt inducing domineering know-it-alls. Esp about climate.

They suggest not cutting the roadside verges……
It is entirely obvious that the only roadside verges they *ever* see are urban and suburban roadside verges.
Verges out in the countryside are NOT ‘manicured like lawns

Verges in towns and cities are kept as short as they are in a deterrent to folks who throw/drop litter.
It shames them into not doing it – whereas with overgrown verges, packets, cans, papers, bottles etc etc simply disappear instantly and the perpetrators think they can get away with it

Graunidians then assert that the uncut verges will become wildlife havens.
OK, yes they will and they’ll occur as pairs – one down each side of the road.
In peasant farmer vernacular = The Long Meadow.
Cows and sheep love them

But critters on one side of the road will always be tempted to venture across to the other side.
And get splattered in the process.
(The ancient and really crap joke:
Q: What’s the last thing to go thro the mind of a (butterfly) fly on a motorway.
A: Its arse)

Same applies to Bambi, hedgehogs, little birds, cows, sheep, pedestrians etc.
Bees & butterflies not very least.

Certainly some verges out in the countryside are cut BUT, because roadside verges are so lush and verdant, they quickly become hazards ##
….because of overgrowing herbage narrowing the lanes and making it difficult to see round corners and to get out of junctions
Also, verges becomerefuges for noxious and notifiable weeds, such as Creeping Thistle, Spear Thistle and especially Ragwort (aka; Bowens, Tansy, Stinking Willy) so verges will be cut to prevent things like that setting seed thereafter hitching rides nationwide.
(In the UK, if you allow a ‘Notifiable Weed‘ such as those to set seed and spread to a neighbours land – you can find yourself in Some Very Deep Shit)

Thus, Dear Grauniad Readers, where roadside verges have been cut in the UK, it is *always* for good reason.

## Roadside verges, certainly in the UK are a gorgeous example of Global Greening and how the omnipotent NASA, just like the Grauniad, have got it more wrong than a really wrong thing
Because, the observant traveller will notice how massively lush, green and abundant the verges are, especially compared to the fields they might be passing by at the time.

Surely Shirley, what with all the care, love, fertiliser, pesticide and general manicuring the fields get, it *should* be the other way round.
Why *do* the verges grow so much better and stronger than the fields?

Because *all* the things generally regarded as ‘pollution‘, dust, soot/smoke, brake dust (esp metal ‘dust’ off disc brakes) tyre dust, the Oxides of Nitrogen & Sulphur and endless other smut…..
…. all act as fertiliser.

Carbon Dioxide is not any sort of fertiliser (Liebig Limiter) for any plant life out in the wild on this Earth
CO2 only becomes a fertiliser inside the insanely pampered world that exists inside commercial greenhouses

Chas
March 22, 2022 3:40 pm

“For any closely watched annual natural phenomena to increase by 100 times in a single year is more than a little unusual. ”
See this out of “Insect population Ecology” Varley Gradwell & Hassel (P137)
[Logarithmic Y axis]:

VGH page 137 time series.jpg
Last edited 2 months ago by Chas
goldminor
March 22, 2022 4:31 pm

I grew up in San Francisco in the 1950s. As a kid I remember seeing monarch butterflies literally cover the sidewalk, parked cars, and the street as they moved north. Local trees would be filled with them at this time. There were blizzards of butterflies.

DaveW
March 22, 2022 6:35 pm

Well, good news on the Monarchs, although it isn’t really clear how much of a ‘natura’l phenomenon the massive migrations in North America are. They may be a ‘disclimax’ resulting from human modifications to the landscape in the post-colonial period. Who cares, though, it is a wonderful attraction to nature for people of all ages. Anything you can do to stop your local councils from cutting or spraying all the weedy milkweeds will help and plant them in your garden too – many have very attractive flowers.

Here in southeast Queensland I can report that another magnificent butterfly, the Richmond Birdwing (Ornithoptera richmondia), seems to be responding to conservation efforts – mostly at the local level. The largest of all the local butterflies and once one of the most common, populations were drastically reduced by clearing and removing the vines on which their caterpillars depend (and also the introduced Dutchman’s Pipe Vine – a garden ornamental which attracts the females to lays eggs but does not support the development of the caterpillars).

Now, after decades of school children planting out Richmond Birdwing Vines, the relic populations seem to be responding and recolonising areas from which they had been extirpated. A complicating factor is the weather – this has been a very wet and lush La Niña year and the vines have been responding very well (mine has grown all over the place) – so no guarantee we will see them when the rains move on. Still, the adults have been sailing through gardens and leaving eggs that develop into caterpillars that pupate even on the relatively small vines in the gardens.

Gary Pearse
March 22, 2022 7:43 pm

Kip: Certainly the Great Greening is a factor. Maybe monarchs get something from elevated CO2 besides more productive and luxuriant milkweed. Arid areas are greening making more territory available.

The Bengal tiger is also coming back strongly. It has reversed its decline in the Ganges delta, and in India across the border, conservationists report a 6% annual increase since 2006.

Maple syrup in my area is even cheaper and on sale frequently. The magic molecule is is surely at work here.

Perhaps you might check the honey bees. The recent silence suggests they, too, are liking the Greening.

John Hultquist
March 22, 2022 8:38 pm

“<i>agricultural practices to suppress weeds and the widespread mowing of highway verges</i>”

Just a guess, do not Monarch butterflies and their annual North American migration pre-date agricultural practices, weed suppression, highways, and mowing?

DMacKenzie
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 23, 2022 11:41 am

Given the similarity of geographically limited breeding grounds, it’s a good thing Monarchs aren’t a human food source like Passenger Pigeons were….
For Monarchs, a virus or other disease that would explain their large population decline and recovery as immunity develops seems to be unresearched.

Rah
March 23, 2022 3:25 am

As a kid I went to Memphis to a convention with my parents. I remember looking out th window of the hotel room watching butterflies use the updraft up the side of a. high rise to gain altitude and then fly across the Mississippi towards me. There were 100s if not 1000s of them doing it.

ozspeaksup
March 23, 2022 3:43 am

weird yours move in spring
aussie ones here are around now and laying as we go into autumn
down here theyre laying on a plant we call swansdown has faux spiky pods that pop n puff what looks like bird down around the seeds

DaveW
Reply to  ozspeaksup
March 26, 2022 2:06 am

ozspeaksup – Here in Queensland we call swansdown the balloon cotton bush and there is a narrow and not so narrow-leafed species, Gomphocarpus fruticosus & physocarpus. They used to be placed in the same genus as the North America milkweeds, but botanical nomenclature has marched on. Balloon cotton bush are from Africa originally.

Common names sometimes persist, e.g. Redhead Cotton Bush, Asclepias curassavica, is still a milkweed, and better known as Bloodflower. I let the cotton bush go on my place for the Monarchs and for the native Lesser Wanderer. I’ve been meaning to get some Bloodflower for the garden – it is very attractive – but it needs a wetter site than I have to do well.

Caligula Jones
March 23, 2022 10:51 am

Funny, my dad has a billion years of National Geographic lying around, and I believe it wasn’t until 1974 (I think) that they even found where in Mexico monarchs wintered.

Cool Tolerance
March 23, 2022 3:30 pm

I live in an avian migratory path. At this time of year, it is splendid.

I always plant loads of annuals to attract bees and butterflies on my large patio deck. Flowers everywhere.

Throughout the years, I’ve noticed a steep decline in monarchs munching on my flowers. It’s depressing, in a way. Last year, I only saw three. And I live outdoors from early morning to late at night. I once saw six monarchs after one plant some seven years ago, and monarchs non-stop every day. No more.

Those are my observations.

Sara
March 23, 2022 5:06 pm

Thanks for the article!!! I don’t do any kind of census count, but I do shoot lots of photos of butterflies and moths, and teensy-weensy insects that most people don’t know exist.

I will be on the lookout for the eggs, caterpillars, and those emerging from their sleeping bags (chrysalis, if you don’t understand), because there is an enormous acreage of forest, marsh, and prairie in my county that is designated wildlife habitat. This includes the butterflies and moths. I don’t do census counts or anything, but I appreciate the heads-up on this!! I might even send your guys pictures.

Thanks!!!!!

Sara
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 27, 2022 5:24 am

Thanks! Looking forward to Spring – if it EVER gets here!!!! 🙂

Michael S. Kelly
March 23, 2022 6:42 pm

My wife and I set about to attract Monarchs here in Virginia, by planting milkweed. It’s their favorite food.

We have every other damned kind of weed growing on our property, but we couldn’t get milkweed to take hold!

Sara
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
March 24, 2022 6:33 am

Where I am, milkweed seems to prefer dry, sort of “sandy” (loose) soils like praririe habitats, so you could try experimenting with creating a spot that would support the growth of that plant.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 24, 2022 8:41 pm

Thanks, Kip and Sara. We will try both of these things.

I’m also trying to get a stand of American Chestnut trees going. I’m so far one for seven, though we just received two live saplings from a nursery in Florida. Wish us luck!

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 25, 2022 7:00 pm

These are hybrids. I was searching for the same thing you were, but have experienced the same roadblock.

I’ll turn 68 next month, so it will be interesting to see whether I get to sample any of these nuts. My life goal is to see Halley’s Comet next time it shows up (since I caught only a glimpse of it in 1994), and be around to brag about it for at least a year. That’ll put my expiration date at sometime in 2062. It could happen…

My wife and I just today bought 96 acres in Tennessee on which to build our retirement home. I haven’t checked whether American chestnuts can grow there, but I suspect they can. If so, I’ll setting up another stand in the not-to-distant future. With any luck, they will be the blight immune American chestnut, rather than the hybrid.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
March 25, 2022 8:12 pm

Oops, I meant 1986, not 1994. Not that anyone would notice…

Clyde Spencer
March 23, 2022 7:44 pm

Kip,

I remember being on a spring-break geology field trip to Death Valley NM in the 1970s, after a particularly wet Spring. The valley floor was covered with short golden sunflowers with a density of about one flower per square meter; there were one or two large, fat caterpillars on every plant. I don’t know what species they were. They resembled the common striped tomato horn worm.

The point of this is that those bountiful years are infrequent, and if one were to take a census of the butterflies or moths during the off years, one might get quite concerned about their survival. However, when the conditions are right, they take advantage of them.

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