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Where have all the butterflies gone?

4793 Views 19 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  firefly22
Last year (2013), was the first year, at my present location, that I began cultivating assorted varieties of milkweed (Asclepias) - including some that are native to my region, primarily in order to attract Monarch butterflies and provide food for their larva. Even before they were mature, several species attracted Queen butterflies (closely related to Monarch's), to lay eggs on them and have their larva grow to maturity, increasing the local Queen butterfly population. As soon as the milkweed plants began blooming, the butterflies of many different species were busy feeding, nearly constantly, and some of these plants continued blooming through the winter and are still blooming now. Curiously, the last time I saw a butterfly, of any species, visiting the milkweed blooms, was sometime in February 2014, with one exception - I've seen one solitary butterfly feeding on milkweed nectar, a black swallowtail, the first of that species I've ever seen feeding in my yard.

Also, in late summer 2013, Monarch butterflies joined the Queen butterflies in feeding and using the milkweed plants as host to their larva.

What has me concerned is that there were usually a large group of butterflies feeding in my flower garden, last summer. As many as one hundred individuals of many different species (many very diminutive ones, and a few larger species). Yet, so far, this year, only one butterfly of any variety --> what's up with that?

Besides the exceptionally atypical weather, this season, the only difference I can think that might explain the absence of the many butterfly species that usually frequent my flower garden, is that lots of acreage, all around my location, has been planted to alfalfa, for hay. The alfalfa, along with all other commercial agriculture, is fortunately, beyond the normal foraging range of my honey bees.

I'm guessing that since the alfalfa is allowed to bloom for a few weeks, just before they cut it, and pesticides are used. Those pesticides may be adversely affecting the butterfly populations.

I hope that I am mistaken. I am anxiously awaiting the return of, at least, some butterflies to my flower garden. I miss seeing their bright and cheerful colors.
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I have noticed a drastic decline in butterfly sightings here as well. I attribute this to the very harsh winter we just had. Some of my wife's (real hardy) flowers actually froze out as well.
I saw many butterflies two years ago, few last year, and have seen many again this year. I do not know if these three simple observations indicate a human-driven problem, or if there is a 'natural' reason for the fluctuation.
This morning, Monday, 23 June 2014 - I went out even earlier than usual, just after sunrise, about 0500, I took a careful look at all the blooming plants (mesquite, creosote bush, holy basil, and several different milkweed species), to see if there were any foraging insects working the blooms. All I observed were a few dozen, very tiny wild solitary bee species, no Lepidopterans of any kind, no flies, not even hover flies, and no milkweed bugs, very few aphids (the milkweed plants are usually lousy with yellow aphids - there were a few on a couple of plants, no more).

I'm hoping that this is simply an artifact of our recent unusually hot and dry spell (our last significant rainfall was in November 2013). That somehow, the weather may have restricted the migration of the various insects, is what I'm hoping is the cause. However, there have been many desert plants blooming and producing nectar/pollen continuously, despite the weather. Mesquite has been blooming in its usual manner, as well as creosote bush, Ironwood, and the Saguaro cacti have been blooming stronger than usual, so there has been plenty of forage available for insects to allow them to migrate from area to area. Where are they? Later today I will be going into town, while there I plan to stop at a few local plant nurseries, to see what's happening there. Usually there are many insects foraging the plants at those establishments, despite their use of various pesticides. We will see.
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I used to catch and raise Monarch caterpillers all the time when I was younger. I've looked on every milkweed I encounter and have not seen a single one for about five years or more. Don't see many Monarchs anymore either. Or butterflies in general.
A report I've read indicates the butterfly population overwintering in Mexico is at an all-time low, linked to a reduction in their breeding grounds.

Remember all the milkweed that would invariably spring up in the corn fields of years back? Herbicides have eliminated that scourge and thus the Monarchs' summer habitat. (Don't want to point fingers at a certain manufacturer because there are some here that are big fans of theirs. I'll just say Monarchs may be heading for their last roundup.)

I encourage milkweed to grow in my small corn plot in my garden.

We've only caught a couple Monarch Cats this year, most of the time we catch over 10 out looking at wild Milkweed. Surprisingly there is still a lot of Milkweed blooming right now, but I haven't looked for Cats in at least a month.

I also plant a lot of Dill for the Black Swallowtail's. Haven't had one on the Dill plants yet this year which is a first.
An article on new research regarding the Monarch's magnetic compass:
I'm guessing that since the alfalfa is allowed to bloom for a few weeks, just before they cut it, and pesticides are used. Those pesticides may be adversely affecting the butterfly populations.
what pesticides are used in alfalfa fields just before its cut?
Herbicides have eliminated that scourge and thus the Monarchs' summer habitat.
Milk weed has not been eliminated by the use of herbicides... look at our ditches... its a buffet for Monarch butterflys
Milk weed has not been eliminated by the use of herbicides... look at our ditches... its a buffet for Monarch butterflys
Milkweed has never competed well in annual row cropped fields, what little survived field tillage fell victim to 2-4D or atrazine long before GMO's showed up. Pastures (cattle can't eat them), road ditches and any odd unmowed waste areas (they can thrive in poor soils) are where it is most often found. If someone wants to help the Monarch try imposing on your local weed control boards to stop the blanket spraying of road ditches.
If someone wants to help the Monarch try imposing on your local weed control boards to stop the blanket spraying of road ditches.
I dont know about everywhere else, but Milkweed is getting out of control here. Fields are finally clean of it, yes, but it has gotten out of control everywhere else.

I keep bees in three Municipalities. One of them has quit spraying its ditches and rely more on later season mowing. The life that exists in that ditch way because of the flowering weeds is substantial. When the other two Municipalities remain in a dearth till the crops bloom, my bees are feasting down the road in the ditches!!
I've lived all over this country (USA), while I was growing up and then after becoming an adult. When I was much younger, while in Southern California (2nd grade), I first spotted a Monarch chrysalis, about twenty feet up, in the crotch of a large ******** tree (Eucalyptus). I plucked it, along with the piece of bark it was attached to, and placed it in a glass fish bowl, where I observed it emerge. I was hooked. I asked my teacher about them, and she referred me to the library, where I learned much more. I soon was able to locate tiger caterpillars on milkweed plants that were growing on the edges of our school playground.

I've observed Monarch's and milkweed in many parts of the USA. Here in Southern Arizona (the desert southwest), there are only two species of milkweed that are native, Asclepias subulata and Asclepias albicans. There is also an invasive species of milkweed present, a vining one. These native milkweed species are rather restricted in their ranges, though many have been planted by the city of Tucson and Pima county in the landscaping associated with public roads in our area. I'm sure this is an effort to help increase habitat for Monarch and Queen butterflies. It is curious that the two native milkweed species only rarely have leaves, the plants are more usually just a roughly vase shaped collection of upright blue-green stems (2-3 feet high), with clusters of yellow-white flowers, then more typical milkweed seedpods and airborne seeds. When they do have leaves, the leaves are tiny and don't last long.

The only weed spraying I've noticed, is when they spot spray weeds that have invaded this landscaping (they use dye in the herbicide, so it's easy to notice when it's recently used).

In my flower garden, I have sweet clover, alfalfa, sainfoin, holy basil, moringa trees, butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and many different native and non-native milkweed species.

Usually there are many different kinds of butterflies, flies, bees (including honey bees), grasshoppers, leaf hoppers, praying mantids, walking sticks, hover flies, dragonflies, and many other insects, frequenting my small flower garden (most are planted in large drip irrigated pots). I have never used any pesticides in my garden. I even remove aphids and other pests, by hand, or with a small spray bottle of water.

I plan to ask the local extension office, to determine what they are using on the alfalfa. I suspect the alfalfa, since there has always been some alfalfa planted in this area, but only in the past 2-3 years has the acreage planted in it, skyrocketed. And, around here some of it is in bloom, every month of the year. So, in the winter months, it would be a major draw for insects that feed on nectar/pollen.

Here's to continued hope that this is simply a natural and cyclical issue, and nothing more. In the next few days, when I'm in town, I plan to stop at some of the local plant nurseries to see what insects are visiting their flowering plant, if any. I've done this often, in the past, and was always rewarded by the presence of many nectar/pollen foraging insects.
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There is a lot of discussion regarding neonics being persistent in the soil and water around crops and being taken up and expressed in the leaves, pollen and nectar of wildflowers. There was study in Ontario of clover and trefoil planted after neonic treated corn that found high levels of neonics expressed.
Everybody always jumps to blame farmers and insecticides. I have never heard or read anything about spraying alfalfa during bloom. If it is sprayed at all, it is for weevils and that happens before the bloom. It is very common for insect populations to drop to very low numbers after a boom year. Their diseases and parasites increase along with their populations and remarkably reduce the numbers the next year. Then in subsequent years the numbers build back up. Joseph you live in the heart of Painted Lady territory. They are classics for this cycle. Your extreme drought conditions have a very devastating effect on insect populations also. Monarch populations are being devastated by habitat loss. When I was a kid they were everywhere. Now I am lucky to see one or two a year, and have not found a larvae in about ten years.
I am not an expert but I would be more concerned about BT corn being the culprit. It targets moths and butterflies. I am not sure if it is still in use in the U.S. but it would be my guess.
I see many fewer insects of all varieties in central Missouri. I have not seen a single June bug or even a Japanese beetle (which I do not miss!) this year so far. Lightning bugs are out but not very many. The last two summers we have had very few grasshoppers. This might be more due to hot dry summers and the longer colder winter that we just had. Local breeding bird populations seem to be lower as well.
> I am not sure if it is still in use in the U.S. but it would be my guess.

You would be hard pressed to find ANY corn in the US that is not Bt corn unless it's some kind of sweet corn.
I live in upstate NY, have 30 acres small farm with all kinds of plants growing around me. I have not seen a single butterfly to date this year. Last night when walking the cows pasture i stopped and checked out a milk weed patch that normally has a ton of activity. Nothing, looked under the leaves nothing no eggs, nothing I am wondering where they all went too. Something is going on and I get the sneaky suspicion its not good.
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