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Helping the Monarchs, and Florida’s Monarch Mimics

 Monarch Watch Conservation Campaign Poster

Monarch Watch Conservation Campaign Poster, courtesy of Monarch Watch

In mid-March, news of the severe decline in Monarch colonies was released — a record low. Their population has dropped 59% this year alone. That’s outstandingly sad. Although insect populations fluctuate, experts are concerned about the monarchs’ consistent downward trend. Their wintering colonies in Mexico, which once spanned 44 acres, now encompasses less than THREE mind-boggling acres. It was the topic of an NPR piece recently as well: Majestic Monarch Butterflies Under Threat.

Scientists suspect many factors contribute to the decline, including fluctuations in weather, habitat loss, pesticides on milkweed, and Round-up resistant crops — genetically engineered crops. Basically, the fault lies with us.

Monarchs NEED milkweed. During their long and arduous migration spanning several generations, the female lays her eggs on milkweed plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae in turn feed on the plant. Without this basic necessity, the beautiful monarchs will continue to disappear. This year’s numbers are beyond troubling — but hopefully another eye-opening alert for the GMO industry using the herbicides.

Plant milkweed — it’s pretty! So are the butterflies that will visit…. I’ve planted lots of native butterfly plants, but I’ll be doing more for sure, especially since I don’t see many Monarchs down here in Southern Florida.

Monarch Fall and Spring Migrations Map, Monarch Watch

Monarch Fall and Spring Migrations Map, Courtesy of Monarch Watch

But below are some mimics of the Monarch — the Viceroy and Queen butterflies. The Viceroy, a black-and-orange poisonous butterfly very similar in appearance, doesn’t feed on milkweed like the Monarch, but remains safe because of its similarity to the more noxious-tasting Monarch. Interestingly, the Viceroy has evolved from a tasty butterfly to predators — one that survived on mimicry alone — to one that has adapted further by eating toxic vegetation as well (including willows and poplars).

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

The Queen butterflies also eat milkweed, and the toxins from the plants make them distasteful to predators. Scientists have noted that a bird eating a Monarch will learn and remember that the bright orange coloration and pattern is a signal of unpleasantness — and so a Queen butterfly, with its similar appearance, will be safe. Mimicry! Fascinating stuff.

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Hyplouxo Scrub Natural Area

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Riverbend Park

Be sure to also check out:

Monarch Watch Shop — Learn how to create a habitat for monarchs

Monarch Watch — LOTS of resources

Flight of the Butterflies in 3D — And how to plant a butterfly garden

Click here to look at the maps and other population graphs of the monarchs, and learn how you can help in their plight

Denise Dahn, artist/writer: An amazing nature artist and writer, here highlighting the history of milkweed and its importance to the Monarch

70 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am not going to dispute any of the reasons that you listed for the decline of monarch butterflies, but I think that a big part of it is due to there not being as much habitat for milkweed plants to grow. And, that it is due to the fact that we no longer keep as much land cleared and are allowing more tree lots to take the place of the open fields created when the white man first settled North America.

    I suspect that the population of monarchs exploded when the forests of the eastern US were cleared, and now, their numbers are returning to the levels that they were at 400 years ago, but no one thought to count them then.

    Take Michigan, it was 90% forest when the Europeans arrived, they clear cut 95% of the forest, creating habitat for the monarchs. Now, the state is back to being just over 50% forest, so there is much less habitat for milkweed and monarchs. But, then the question becomes, do we artificially maintain open space for monarchs?

    It’s a tough balancing act, when the forests were cut, the numbers of many forest species declined, but the numbers of others skyrocketed. With the return of more forest land, our historic species are returning, but at the cost of the “invaders” numbers going down.

    May 13, 2013
    • Oh, I definitely agree that habitat loss plays an enormous part in this travesty…. As you say, with more species as well.

      But the severe decline in recent years especially, those horrible percentages — one just has to look at the newer, more resilient poisons being dumped on the Monarchs’ *host plants* — to see that more is at play here. More care and more protection of the land is needed overall, for sure.

      May 13, 2013
      • But, my point was, is it habitat loss if the habitat is reverting back to the way it was before European settlers made wholesale changes in the habitat that just happened to benefit monarchs 300 years ago?

        May 13, 2013
  2. This just is stunning. I knew there were problems, but I didn’t realize it was so bad. It helps to explain why the monarch migration isn’t as noticeable here as it used to be – the numbers are down. On the other hand, I do think people are becoming more aware of the problems. I never used to hear much talk of people planting butterfly gardens, but it’s happening more and more. We’d better get after it if we want to save this species. (And get Mexico involved, too!)

    May 13, 2013
    • Is it amazing? I knew it was bad, but nothing to this degree. More fuel to the GMO fire. But you’re right — there seems to be a lot more awareness on planting butterfly gardens. I’ve always wanted to help our native wildlife, but sheesh.

      On a sidenote, I thought of you with the Monarch Conservation poster — don’t you just love it? Art Nouveau throwback?!

      May 13, 2013
  3. narhvalur #

    Reblogged this on Ann Novek–With the Sky as the Ceiling and the Heart Outdoors.

    May 13, 2013
  4. Seems they are going the way of the honeybee, sadly.
    After looking at your photos, I believe I had a Viceroy visit my Bleeding Hearts yesterday.
    I have a friend back in New Hampshire who knows of a stand of milkweed plant. I’ve been pressing her to gather the seeds/fluff for me, so I can add it to one of my home spun yarns. Now, I have a new reason to press her for the seeds! Not sure if it will grow here, but I’ll give it a try!
    Thanks for sharing this, I will do my part.

    May 13, 2013
    • Ooooh, interesting!! I hope you can get those seeds from her (and fluff)…! But check out those links; I know some of them provide access to milkweed growing info (where it grows, buying seeds, etc.).

      So neat too, that you saw a Viceroy! They’re so lovely.

      🙂 -Christina

      May 13, 2013
      • Found two native milkweed for my area – California and Greene’s. I’ll look around in my travels here, and I think I may know where there is a stand of them, a few miles from here.
        I will do something for them. 😀

        May 13, 2013
      • Oooh fantastic! My botanist friend just let me know about what milkweed species grow down here, so I’ll be planting some in my little yard, too. 🙂 Why not?

        I hope you have success!

        May 14, 2013
  5. Terrific photos and excellent info on these little jewels!

    May 13, 2013
    • Ah, thanks so very much! They really are little beauties… 🙂

      May 13, 2013
  6. Stunning shots of the butterflies.

    May 13, 2013
    • Thanks so very much! I really enjoy chasing flutterbys on my hikes. 🙂

      May 13, 2013
  7. Wow. I didn’t know it was that bad! Thanks for bringing up this important issue. I’ve heard about illegal poaching of their wintering forest in Mexico, but I had no idea it was so extreme. I’ve always wanted to see those butterfly-covered trees. How sad.

    May 13, 2013
    • Ditto… I had *no* idea as to the extent of their decline in recent years, either. And I’ve always wanted to visit their wintering colonies in Mexico, too — can you imagine that sight? It really behooves us to take care of this place (the world, that is).

      May 13, 2013
      • fyi – I linked to your post in my related post today.

        May 15, 2013
      • I saw, thank you! I love your post, highlighting the milkweed (something I’m still learning, obviously)… I love how all the different facets are highlighted.

        In fact, I think I’ll go back and hyperlink YOUR post to this one! 🙂

        May 16, 2013
  8. What a great story. Thank you so much for sharing this. I love all of my butterflies here~

    May 13, 2013
    • Thanks so much! I love our mimic Monarchs. 🙂 I get to see them often on my hikes, fortunately…. Chasing them into the gators!

      May 13, 2013
  9. I do follow this and I have been so sad about it. I will be surprised if I see any monarch up here near Buffalo NY.. I only found 5 eggs last season to raise and hope I can find some this season. I have a Monarch WayStation…Michelle

    May 13, 2013
    • I know you’ve been incredibly wonderful in writing about their plight, and raising awareness!!

      So you’ve seen the decrease first-hand. Wow. So fantastic that you have a WayStation, too… -Christina

      May 13, 2013
  10. Andrea #

    I enjoy all your posts:)

    May 13, 2013
    • Ah, you’re so kind — thank you! I love your blog as well… It’s been in my Florida blogroll, did you see? 🙂

      May 14, 2013
  11. Lovely photos, but disturbing news about the decline in the Monarch butterfly populations. A number of parks in Ohio have Monarch butterfly enclosures where they raise butterflies on milkweeds, that them, then release the butterflies. It’s educational and hopefully helps grow the population a bit.

    May 13, 2013
    • Aren’t those declining figures shocking? I knew, but nothing to that degree….

      What wonderful programs! As you say, educational and helpful. MORE parks and facilities need to do this sort of activity. Kids LOVE butterflies and the entire process!

      May 14, 2013
  12. The awareness for the butterflies, and the rising problems, are so important, so thank you for this post. And for the very beautiful photos.

    May 13, 2013
    • You’re very kind — thank you! I love chasing the butterflies on my hikes. 🙂 And you’re absolutely right; any bit of awareness as to the plight of our butterflies (and bees, for that matter) is helpful.

      May 14, 2013
  13. Great map of the Monarch migration. Yes, Monarch Watch is the site which has the tagging project. I saw the ‘Flight of the Butterflies’ film in Tampa and it’s breathtaking!

    May 13, 2013
    • Oooohhhh… You’re so lucky!!! I imagine that film was a sight to behold. And that map is fascinating, isn’t it? I learned from it, for sure….

      May 14, 2013
      • Caribbean Biodiversity #

        Caribbean Monarchs don’t migrate; and only the American ‘4th generation’ Monarchs do; so not all American Monarchs migrate neither. Only the ‘4th generation’ ones, the ones that pupate around October, are able to make the journey. They are the ‘Super Monarchs’; it’s a biological phenomena related to the seasons and to their genetic overall genetic make-up.

        May 14, 2013
      • Caribbean Monarchs don’t migrate; and only the American ’4th generation’ Monarchs do; so not all American Monarchs migrate neither. Only the ’4th generation’ ones, the ones that pupate around October, are able to make the journey. They are the ‘Super Monarchs’; it’s a biological phenomena related to the seasons and to their genetic overall genetic make-up.

        May 14, 2013
      • Fascinating… I had heard about the 4th Generation Monarchs, but I didn’t know the relation to the seasons. What a truly wonderful thing.

        I need to watch that movie!!

        May 14, 2013
  14. In Florida there are 22 species of milkweed. 21 species are native but the species I see the most is the Scarlet Milkweed or Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica) which is non native. The Florida Milkweed has the scientific name Asclepias feayi.

    May 13, 2013
    • Ah, WONDERFUL! Thank you so, so very much…. I’ll be looking for it around our native nurseries! (I assume it can grow this far south?)

      May 14, 2013
  15. Beautiful shots! We have lots of milkweed around here…… hope they come our way.

    May 13, 2013
    • Thanks so much! Ah, so wonderful you have (un-poisoned!) milkweed in your neck of the woods…. I too hope they’re able to find their way.

      May 14, 2013
  16. Your consideration for all species is heart warming. For all you do – thanks

    May 14, 2013
    • You’re incredibly kind — thank you! I’m just the messenger; for all of those in the field working fanatically to help these species, I’m in awe.

      May 14, 2013
  17. The Monarchs on the Central Coast of California take over whole trees, creating beautifully colored, living leaves. I couldn’t imagine losing this treasure. In Sacramento on the American River Parkway, there is a butterfly that associates with Dutchman’s Pipe Vine the way the monarch does with milkweed. Same story… the weed is poisonous so birds leave the butterfly alone. Other butterflies adopt it’s coloration. Isn’t nature wonderful?

    May 14, 2013
    • I’ve heard of this area…. It’s famous! I’ve always wanted to visit.

      Nature really IS amazing — when you break down the process, see the evolution — it’s truly mindboggling and beautiful. 🙂

      May 14, 2013
  18. You are a true rescuer of all kind of animals … That is something i admire you for … And that you through your blog spread and share your knowledge to us, your readers …
    So thank you for that, and it´s a pleasure to read your informative posts that also includes amazing photos . // Maria

    May 14, 2013
    • What an incredibly sweet thing to say — so many THANKS! I wish I could do more. Those amazing and dedicated people in the field who work so very hard to help species (and land) in peril deserve all the kudos.

      Much love, Christina

      May 14, 2013
  19. The ironic thing here is that we have the opposite problem. My neighbours plant and cultivate invasive introduced weeds (I don’t know why) and the monarchs are breeding really really well.
    Sure, the butterflies and their caterpillars are pretty, but the trouble the weeds cause us is beyond a joke.
    Where an introduced species thrives, a native struggles and that is what I find hard to accept about my neighbours practices.

    May 15, 2013
    • Wow, that’s interesting — more Monarchs! Living in Southern Florida, I completely empathize with the…ahem…difficulty surrounding the introduction of non-natives. Why anyone would willingly plant them is beyond me, especially with so many gorgeous natives available to attract the indigenous wildlife. Why wouldn’t you *want* to do that?

      I was raised in your area, the South Pacific, and even there we encountered the same issue. I’ll never understand it.

      BTW, your images are gorgeous — just visited your Flickr site. My family has two rescued thoroughbreds, so I’m now a fan. 🙂

      May 15, 2013
      • haha thank you.
        Despite the enormous amount of issues our boys have related to poor breeding and other racing industry practices, they are delightful and a joy to have.

        May 15, 2013
      • Ah yes… Our family’s 2 girls experience the same issues, years later. Appalling. Needless to say, they wouldn’t make great therapy horses, but they’re our therapy, and the sweetest things on 4 legs. 🙂

        May 16, 2013
      • We had a horses at a massage clinic the week before last and they got a few derisive comments, mostly from professional race horse trainers/breeders.
        I felt like saying to them that it was their fault, but, we just kept our mouths shut and appreciated how far we had brought them since we got them.

        They are indeed the sweetest thing on four legs.

        May 19, 2013
      • Sigh…. Well, they can’t actually *acknowledge* all of the pain and abuse they caused at their hands! Instead, it’s perpetuated b/c it’s quick and easy.

        We’ve run into the same scenarios, and as you say — how do you even stoop to that level of ignorance? We know a few former racing vets (emphasis on *former*) and they have yet more insight into their “training”. No words needed, since this is a polite forum. 🙂

        May 20, 2013
  20. humans are such destructive creatures. the images are stunning!

    May 15, 2013
    • The good news is that there definitely seems to be more awareness… But sheesh already, with the companies doing the destruction!!

      Thanks so much, too. 🙂

      May 15, 2013
  21. marialla #

    Wow!! What beauties. Thank you for all the info too!! I think you much carry a huge encyclopedia in your head. You always have such wonderful stories and oh such interesting tidbits of information.!! Thank you very much!

    May 15, 2013
    • Ah, thanks so much! Honestly, I only knew a bit about the Monarchs — our guys, I knew a bit more…. Research! When I want to learn more about what I see, I look it up! 🙂

      You’re very kind, as always — THANK you!

      May 16, 2013
  22. I have nominated you for a very special Award check it out on my blog.

    May 16, 2013
    • You’re so very sweet…. THANK YOU!! 🙂

      Blessings, Christina

      May 16, 2013
  23. aubrey #

    Yes – the decline has been worrisome for quite a few years. Boyfriend and I went to the butterfly sanctuary in Pacific Grove and I don’t think we saw one!

    I know that my parents had milkweed in their backyard a long time ago (I used to dare my brother to drink the ‘milk’ that came out of the snapped stems – milk is milk to a 6-year old). Maybe we could start a tiny waystation of our own!

    May 16, 2013
    • Hahah!! Your relationship with your brother sounds curiously like mine… Is he younger than you? 🙂 Love it.

      There are a couple of bloggers who have butterfly waystations — it’s so easy and fun! Myself, I’ve just planted LOTS of native Florida flora (and host plants) to attract them. So incredibly pretty… And you see butterflies! I need to plant native milkweed, though. I’ve fallen behind on that.

      May 17, 2013
  24. I do hope these beautiful butterflies don’t dwindle away to zero. On another topic, I wanted to ask if you have a problem with Japanese Beatles in your area? Here in Eastern Ontario in Canada we have had an infestation these past two years…they especially love rose bushes where they can burrow right into the center.. These pesky insects can strip a rose bush in no time! I haven’t seen them yet this spring, possibly because we have had rain.

    May 16, 2013
    • Ah, no…. But we have other pests down here! I’ve heard of the MASSIVE devastation of Japanese Beetles, though — so much so, that it’s affecting wildlife’s ability to survive, since they’re decimating so much flora. 😦 The critters simply don’t have enough to eat, thanks to these introduced pests. Especially up north, and out west….

      May 17, 2013
  25. Don’t mind me. After seeing all of these posts that I’ve missed I’m guessing that your posts haven’t been showing up on my feed. So just reset my follow. Let’s see if that will do the trick.

    May 29, 2013
    • Oh no!!! I hope I don’t have that same issue as before….! No one else has been complaining of that prob, though. Ergh!

      May 29, 2013
  26. This is just gorgeous~

    June 3, 2013
    • Thanks so very much — it’s hard to do these beautiful areas justice, they’re so sublime. As you know, I’m sure! 🙂

      June 4, 2013
  27. Kim #

    I absolutely love your photos! I was reading a bit about monarch conservation earlier today, and then just randomly stumbled upon your blog! Here’s a Economist article you might find interesting:

    Thanks for the amazing glimpses of the natural world! 🙂

    February 25, 2014
    • Thanks so very much for your kind words! And equally, many thanks for this article — I’m a bit tardy in my replies (my apologies), but I can’t wait to read it.

      From what I’m beginning to hear, the monarchs thus far are faring a bit better…. Hopeful rise in their populations?

      Thanks so much!

      September 12, 2014
  28. Ethereal!!

    December 16, 2014
  29. Kris White #

    Great information, photos, and resources! I noticed a misidentification of one butterfly- a Viceroy has the black line on hind wings. The photo just above the Queens is not a Monarch or Viceroy. It is either a Soldier or Queen. Thank you!!

    September 24, 2017
    • Thanks so much — and for the correction! I rely on books / Web research for some of this guidance, and obviously wasn’t looking CLOSELY enough. 🙂

      September 27, 2017

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