Setting the Table for a Regal Butterfly Comeback, With Milkweed

Monarch Caterpillar Milkweed ©Kim Smith 2013Monarch Caterpillar Eating Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) Foliage

Thank you GMG readers and Monarch Butterfly friends for forwarding the following article from the NY Times!

By Michael Wines

Published December 20th, 2013

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Bounding out of a silver Ford pickup into the single-digit wind-flogged flatness that is Iowa in December, Laura Jackson strode to a thicket of desiccated sticks and plucked a paisley-shaped prize.

It was a pod that, after a gentle squeeze, burst with chocolate brown buttons: seeds of milkweed, the favored — indeed, the only — food of the monarch butterfly caterpillar.

Once wild and common, milkweed has diminished as cropland expansion has drastically cut grasslands and conservation lands. Diminished too is the iconic monarch.

Dr. Jackson, a University of Northern Iowa biologist and director of its Tallgrass Prairie Center, is part of a growing effort to rescue the monarch. Her prairie center not only grows milkweed seeds for the state’s natural resources department, which spreads them in parks and other government lands, but has helped seed thousands of acres statewide with milkweed and other native plants in a broader effort to revive the flora and fauna that once blanketed more than four-fifths of the state.

Monarch Caterpillar milkweed -2 © Kim Smith 2012Monarch caterpillar hanging from a Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) leaf rib, in the characteristic J-shape, readying to pupate.

Nationwide, organizations are working to increase the monarchs’ flagging numbers. At the University of Minnesota, a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies called Monarch Joint Venture is funding research and conservation efforts. At the University of Kansas, Monarch Watch has enlisted supporters to create nearly 7,450 so-called way stations, milkweed-rich backyards and other feeding and breeding spots along migration routes on the East and West Coasts and the Midwest.

But it remains an uphill struggle. The number of monarchs that completed the largest and most arduous migration this fall, from the northern United States and Canada to a mountainside forest in Mexico, dropped precipitously, apparently to the lowest level yet recorded. In 2010 at the University of Northern Iowa, a summertime count in some 100 acres of prairie grasses and flowers turned up 176 monarchs; this year, there were 11.

Read the story here

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