Where Are All the Monarchs?

Monarchs usually arrive in our region by the first week in July and go through several brood cycles. This year, barely any arrived. The Monarch’s sensitivity to temperature and dependence on milkweed make it vulnerable to environmental changes. Since 1994, U.S. and Mexican researchers have recorded a steady decline in the Monarch population in their overwintering grounds, with 2012-2013 being the lowest recorded to date.

Monarch butterflies daybreak willow tree ©Kim Smith 2012

Temperature change and habitat loss affect breeding success and longevity. Dr. Chip Taylor, a leading Monarch researcher at the University of Kansas reports that the widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybean crops resistant to herbicides, along with with intensive herbicide use, coupled with the federal government’s incentivized expansion of corn and soy acreage for the production of biofuels have caused a significant drop in milkweed throughout the heart of the Monarch’s range. Lack of milkweed equals no Monarchs. “Monarch/milkweed habitat has declined significantly in parallel with the rapid adoption of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans and, since 2006, the rapid expansion of corn and soy acreage to accommodate the production of biofuels,” Taylor wrote on May 29.

Monarch Butterfly Nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod ©Kim Smith 2011

Monarchs Nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod

What can we do? Encourage conservation organizations that conserve Monarch habitat, plant milkweed, plant nectar plants, and raise caterpillars. Hopefully the weather next spring and early summer will be more conducive to the Monarch’s northward migration and breeding success, and if and when the Monarchs arrive, they will find our milkweed plants.

Monarch Butterflies New england Aster ©Kim Smith 2012

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at New England Asters

If anyone sees a Monarch, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com or leave a comment in the comment section.

Update #2: Reader Jude Writes the following ~

Hi Kim,

I have maybe 30milkweed plants in the front yard. I would be happy to harvest the seeds, are there places you know of that would be willing or have a large enough property to seed them? Can you harvest them as soon as the pods pop? I remember as a kid finding the most beautiful cocoon I have ever seen. I haven’t seen many butterflies at all and of the ones I have seen are not Monarchs.

My reponse:

Hi Jude, I am putting it out there in GMG Land that if anyone would like your milkweed seed pods to please contact me.

Yes, you can harvest immediately after the pods pop, as a matter of fact, I recommend doing just that and sowing your seeds in the fall. The easiest method is to lightly scratch the surface of the soil where you wish the milkweed to grow. Scatter the seeds and water. That’s it.

Thank you so much for writing. Hopefully, we’ll find a home for your milkweed seeds.

Update: For more information, see previous GMG posts on Monarchs and Milkweed:

How Exactly is Monsanto’s Roundup Ravaging the Monarch Butterfly Population?

News Release: MONARCH WATCH ANNOUNCES ‘BRING BACK THE MONARCHS’ CAMPAIGN

Cape Ann Milkweed Project

GloucesterCast Podcast 4/25/13 With Guest Kim Smith

42 comments

  • I haven’t seen any. So depressing. I can’t imagine a world without Monarchs. It’s breaking my heart that our children may soon live in a world without them. We’ll keep our eyes open and report any we see. Fingers crossed.

    • Thank you funkyfresh and your reporting will be much appreciated. I agree–I don’t even want to consider the idea of a world without Monarchs and am just hoping we are having an especially freakishly bad year.

  • Reblogged this on belyew and commented:
    well it seems to me that ALL the monarchs are gone due to government spraying ALL OVER THE COUNTRY! doing such ‘legal’ chemical tests on all the citizens.

    oh and for those who don’t know here is proof that the government continues to poison it’s citizens. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiJ_R8JVpi4

    and you can check out my you tube channel – lisa belyew aka storm for new uploads about MORE crooked ass government employees!!!!

  • Thx for your discussion. This is so sad! During the recent sunny, hot days I had been looking for monarchs out at the end of Eastern PT. and alas, none were visible! In other years – in early/mid Sept. — there would have been hundreds if not thousands visible on their way to Mexico. .. I’ve not ever seen them on their return . .. do they stop here on their way north?
    Another big reason to avoid GMO corn and soy!

    • Yes they do typically arrive here in July during the northward migration. We will often have several generations during the summer, especially if the weather is good. The last generation to emerge at the end of the summer is sexually immature. They are the ‘Methuselah’ Monarchs that will travel all the way to Mexico.

  • Run over them with he lawn mower all the time in Rockport.

    • Perhaps you are running over Viceroy Butterflies, which look very similar to Monarchs.

      • Hi Kim, I live right behind cape hedge and have always seen monarchs this time of year fllying along the marsh and even along Long Beach. I have not spotted even one this year. So sad. Will let you know if things hopefully change. Thanks for your reporting.

  • ~ Actuallly the MONARCH BUTTERFLY population is down 90% from last year, due to the Monsanto’s use of chemicals. WE NEED TO STOP THIS INSANITY!

  • We had lots of Monarch butterflies last year in the back yard and this year none-zero. We have milkweed and butterfly bushes, and lots of other nector plants that I usually see them on. I didn’t see many butterflies at all this year, no swallowtails really either. Very sad. Last year the baby zinnias were completely covered in butterflies.

    • The Monarch population is in decline, but I am just hoping this is a particularly bad fluke year. I am still hopeful we will see some migrating Monarchs this year. And hopefully the situation isn’t so dire that we will not ever again see the breeding Monarchs that typically arrive in July.

      In our region, last year was an especially good year for many species of butterflies, I think largely due to the warm winter/spring/summer, but there was a drought in the midwest, which is the Monarchs main thoroughfare. The drought, coupled with the loss of milkweed due to Monsanto’s GMO Roundup Ready corn and soybean, has utterly decimated the Monarchs. Will they recover? I don’t have the answer to that but what I do know is that butterflies are a bellwether species that speaks to the health of our environment.

      • Hi Kim, My butterfly garden in NJ has also suffered. I have tons of milkweed, but only a few monarch butterflies were noted this summer. I thought perhaps it was the flood of salty seawater that caused the decline over the barrier island. The beach goldenrod is also a nectar plant that the monarchs feast on while navigating south along the eastern shore of NJ. While my plants seem to have survived – there are no butterflies to be found…

        My

  • The City of Gloucester is having a Hazardous Waste Day on Saturday September 28, 9am – 12 Noon – rain or shine. Residents are asked to schedule an appointment to bring their materials to the DPW yard. The Recycling Department will begin accepting appointments beginning September 3rd. Please call 978-281-9785 to schedule your appointment.
    This is the time to dump that pesticide!

  • I have lots of monarchs here in my yard in Tx. I have a lot of plants that attract them and hummingbirds. Sure enjoy your photos Kim.

    • Thanks so much for writing Karen. I am so happy to know this. As you have Monarchs in Texas, they will surely make it to Mexico, and we can be hopeful for next year!!

  • I have not seen 1 on Magnolia Point.
    Another reason to hate Monsanto. And our government for growing food to be burned as fuel in our cars, that is ethanol.

    • Thanks for letting us know re Magnolia Point–which is usually mecca for the Monarchs! We’ll keep hoping.

      I agree, some very bad decisions regarding ethanol–on myriad levels.

  • Lovely photo’s and have dragonflies this way making there adventure – There still around but not as great a numbers as before…this brought back a memory from 1966 I was 11 then and I do remember lot’s of the Monarchs just watching them flutter around was a site to see…

    Bob Lind – Elusive Butterfly 1966

    • Thank you for posting Bob Lind’s tender Elusive Butterfly. I became very emotional listening–some songs never lose their power and beauty and Elusive Butterfly is one.

      • You are most welcome we are all on a journey one way or another and music is a big part for me along with the wisdome and beauty of items other’s share here on GMA…After what happened in Washington DC – These things are even more imporant hopefully it wa was a good emotion!- Thank You Ms KIm Smith!

        • Thank you Dave.

          Also, we did have a fabulous Green Darner dragonfly migration about a week ago. I don’t know how the numbers compare to previous migrations, but I did manage to catch some dragonflies migrating through a field on film. Will be posting an end of summertime video hopefully soon.

  • Correction GMG slip of the typo

  • Dixie from melrose writes, “My neighbors and I (in Melrose) all have butterfly bushes and no one has seen a monarch butterfly (or any butterflies). I’ve asked my friends In other cities and towns and it’s the same story. I was glad to see this article. Let’s hope next year’s a better year.”

  • My friend Janet writes,

    Hi Kim,
    We saw a total of about 6 or 7 Monarchs this year and the latest one was in the last week or so. When I saw them in the garden I could tell they were always male, no females. We did have yellow and black swallowtails on a daily basis until we had our roof done the last week in August. I don’t know if there is a connection. I will write more on the garden’s year, but my brother sent me a link to your recent explanation of the scarcity of Monarchs, so I wanted you to know what it was like here at Beach Road.

  • Kim, thank you for sending this. I have not seen any Monarch butterflies on the Butterfly Bushes at Northeast Nursery in Peabody but last year I saw quite a few of them. Also I usually see them in the fall migrating near the seashore and looking for nectar in the seaside goldenrod at Wells Beach – but so far none this fall.

    One other thing that might help is getting rid of the Cynanchum louiseae, Black Swallowwort which is such a noxious weed, since the eggs that are laid in it do not hatch – I have been getting rid of an infestation at my mother’s house all summer (and when I get all of them there are sprouts starting up again). On the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, there is a pod-plucking day every summer to try to at least keep the Swallowwort from reproducing – volunteers meet and spend a few hours picking and bagging up the pods.

    • Thank you Laura for letting us know about NE Nurseries, where we usually see tons of butterflies. And thank you too for sharing about the Black Swallowwort. I empathize as I know how hard it is to rid your property of the weed. When I was in Ohio several summers ago, I watched a female deposit eggs on Black Swallowwort. I cut the leaves up, all around the eggs, and then placed the eggs in a terrarium on top of a milkweed leaf. When the caterpillars emerged, they first ate their eggshells and then I very delicately nudged them onto a milkweed leaf.

  • I read some of the comments about last year being a good one for many butterfly species- in May 2012 great flocks of Red Admirals appeared in my mother’s garden in Ogunquit for about 2 weeks. they were landing in the lilacs, on twigs and fenceposts. in the fir trees – everywhere. I have never seen anything like it. This year I only saw one., I read that there were record numbers of Red Admirals last year in parts of Canada, but heard nothing at all this year. ,

  • Lat year was a banner year for many species of butterflies. We had what is called an irruption of both Red Admirals and Painted Ladies; Red Admirals in the spring and Painted Ladies in the late summer. An irruption, or an explosion in population of a certain species, also occurs with birds. I think the warm winter/spring/summer of 2012 had a great deal to do with the great numbers of butterflies seen. The irruption of the Red Admirals occurred from Texas to Canada, the Painted ladies, throughout New England, perhaps beyond, but I have not heard that it happened outside our region. I shot beautiful film footage of the Red Admirals in lilacs, crabapples, and on my porch, which I will somehow add to my Monarch film!

  • Hi Kim,
    Just wanted to let you know that I have had two brief visits by Monarchs on my butterfly bush in the last week or so. Each time it was a single butterfly, and it either didn’t stick around long or I just happened to see it at the end of it’s visit. I’ve been looking for them since July, and these are the only ones I’ve seen in my yard (in Andover, MA) or anywhere. I did have quite a few Swallowtails earlier in the summer, though. I have several large butterfly bush, a large joe pye weed stand, and other nector plants, and I’m usually flush with Monarchs this time of year. Love your blog, and your programs!
    Cheryl

    • Thank you Cheryl for sharing about your garden in Andover and thank you for your kind words about my programs and blog.

      Sadly, your garden seems just as everyone’s, with no Monarchs, but gratefully, the tiger swallowtails seems to be having a banner year. I too saw them in great numbers in many gardens this year, which i think speaks to the overall good health of the environment in Massachusetts because Canadian and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are primarily a regional species.

  • I saw only three lone Monarchs swooping about the yard this summer in East Gloucester. Each one took just a short sip of nectar from my butterfly garden & flew away. I kept hoping they were scouts & that more would come, but didn’t see any. In past summers there have been so many. But there were quite a lot of yellow & black swallowtails this summer.
    Let’s hope for much better for the Monarchs next year.

    • Thank you Isabel for letting us know what is happening in your lovely East Gloucester garden. See comment above re Eastern Tiger and Canadian Swallowtails–they are beautiful, aren’t they?

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  • Moved to Maine.from Gloucester..My first summer in Maine…I could not believe the various colors and abundance of butterflies incl. monarchs..Cc

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