Butterflies aren’t showing up for Michigan summer

4:06 PM, July 5, 2013   |
The American Painted Lady butterfly drinks some nectar in the yard of Joe Derek, former naturalist for the city of Farmington Hills.

The American Painted Lady butterfly drinks some nectar in the yard of Joe Derek, former naturalist for the city of Farmington Hills. / Joe Derek
By Kristen Jordan Shamus

Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

Joe Derek, 65, of Farmington Hills talks about some of the plants in his natural garden on Friday, June 28, 2013, that help attract butterflies while while standing near Joe Pye weeds. Derek, formerly the naturalist for the city of Farmington Hills, has a 2-acre butterfly garden at his home. Ryan Garza / Detroit Free Press / Detroit Free Press
A European cabbage butterfly hides from the rain on a plant in Joe Derek’s butterfly garden in Farmington Hills on Friday June 28, 2013. Derek, formerly the naturalist for the City of Farmington Hills, has a 2-acre butterfly garden at his home. Ryan Garza / Detroit Free Press / Detroit Free Press

There aren’t many among the lantana, the butterfly bushes or the milkweed plants in Joe Derek’s Farmington Hills yard.

Butterflies are strikingly absent this year from his naturally landscaped property off 10 Mile Road, where he grows two acres of native plants known to draw the fluttering beauties.

“Normally, at this time of year, I’d see hundreds,” says Derek, former naturalist for the City of Farmington Hills. “In my life, I’ve never seen a season where we’re not seeing butterflies really of any kind.”

They’re missing from Diane Pruden’s yard in Milford, too.

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“It’s just horrible,” says Pruden, a monarch conservationist for the nonprofit group Monarch Watch. “I’ve got plants that should be covered with eggs and caterpillars right now, and there are just none to be seen.”

Butterfly enthusiasts say there’s a dearth of butterflies in Michigan this year. Official data are still being collected by monitoring groups around the state, but anecdotally, at least, the outlook is grim.

Holli Ward, executive director of the Michigan Butterflies Project based in Jenison, near Grand Rapids, says she has seen disappointingly few monarchs this year, the type she studies most.

“We go out and are looking, looking, inspecting thoroughly,” she says. “On a good day, we’re looking at hundreds of milkweed stalks — every week, twice a week since early June. We have not seen a single egg or caterpillar.”

Her group examines milkweed because it is the only plant monarchs use to lay their eggs; it’s also a food source in their early days as caterpillars.

Ward is hopeful it’ll get better later into the season, but she has her doubts.

“This year’s cooler, wetter spring really didn’t help,” Ward says. “Couple that with last year’s extremely hot, extremely dry weather, and it’s a terrible situation for monarchs.”

Besides the weather, part of the problem is development of prairies and grasslands, farming practices that have all but eliminated milkweed and other native plants from corn and soybean fields through the heartland, and suburban landscaping with nonnative plants. Combined, these factors have wiped out huge swaths of habitat that used to lure and feed these delicate insects.

Widespread use of pesticides — especially large-scale spraying for mosquitoes and gypsy moths — also kills caterpillars. Rampant use of herbicides in landscaping also contributes to the problem, destroying many native plants the butterflies need to survive.

 

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Get involved

■ Learn about the plants that are best for attracting butterflies and make a commitment to add them to your garden, landscaping or even in pots on your patio or porch.
■ Don’t use pesticides in your yard. They kill the butterflies, too.
■ To become a citizen scientist and help the Michigan Butterfly Network with its butterfly counts, go to www.michiganbutterfly.org or call Ashley Anne Wick at 269-381-1574, ext. 12, for details.
■ You can also monitor and check the progress of monarch butterflies through Journey North, a nonprofit group that tracks wildlife migration and seasonal change through field observations. To learn more, go to http://journeynorth.org.
■ If you’re in western Michigan, learn more about the Michigan Butterflies Project counts at http://michiganbutterflies.org or by calling Holli Ward at 616-581-8002 or by e-mail at info@michiganbutterflies.org.

 

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Monarch butterfly numbers drop by ‘ominous’ 59%

Posted: Mar 15, 2013 10:26 AM ET

Last Updated: Mar 16, 2013 7:16 PM ET

The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, experts say.

The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, experts say.

The number of Monarch butterflies making it to their winter refuge in Mexico dropped 59 per cent this year, falling to the lowest level since comparable record-keeping began 20 years ago, scientists reported Wednesday.

It was the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter sheltering in mountaintop fir forests in central Mexico. Six of the last seven years have shown drops, and there are now only one-fifteenth as many butterflies as there were in 1997.

The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, the experts said.

But they differed on the possible causes.

Illegal logging in the reserve established in the Monarch wintering grounds was long thought to contribute, but such logging has been vastly reduced by increased protection, enforcement and alternative development programs in Mexico.

The World Wildlife Fund, one of the groups that sponsored the butterfly census, blamed climate conditions and agricultural practices, especially the use of pesticides that kill off the Monarchs’ main food source, milkweed. The butterflies breed and live in the north in the summer, and migrate to Mexico in the winter.

“The decrease of Monarch butterflies … probably is due to the negative effects of reduction in milkweed and extreme variation in the United States and Canada,” the fund and its partner organizations said in a statement.

 

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