I have been taking walks on nature trails because the fresh air is good for my health. Does the opening image not just exude the feeling of peacefulness? Or the one below?
To hear the summer birds sing, the crickets chirp, the leaves rustle with the baby rabbits running to and fro, brings such peace and well-being. The animals go about their business, ignoring me passing through. To see the butterflies flutter…
So many, myself included have noticed the lessening of butterflies this year. Only certain places have had butterflies fluttering about, and not in usual numbers. I see a number of bees thankfully, but still not in the usual quantities.
Today, I was at Beaver Island State Park, and Buckhorn State Park, Grand Island. Grand Island is the largest island in the Niagara River, just over the bridge from where I live.
The butterflies I found looked rather weather-worn.
Is this a sign?
Alarmingly, the Monarch population is estimated to be down by 59% this year by the land that they occupy. (source)
They are down because of three major factors. If you are so inclined for the science… (79e41508820d30ca9b)
- Degradation of the forest in the overwintering areas.
- The loss of breeding habitat in the United States due to the expansion of GM herbicide-resistant crops, with consequent loss of milkweed host plants, as well as continued land development.
- Severe weather. (scientific abstract)
There is a 30 year study on the decline of female Monarchs in the Eastern US. (source)
You can see it is much more than anecdotal, but how much is weather playing a part? Last year was drought with record temperatures, but there were still numerous bees and butterflies. So what happened to them?
“The monarch’s life cycle depends on the climatic conditions in the places where they develop. Eggs, larvae and pupae develop more quickly in milder conditions. Temperatures above 95°F can be lethal for larvae, and eggs dry out in hot, arid conditions, causing a drastic decrease in hatch rate,” said Omar Vidal, director general of WWF – Mexico.
Not as many of the next generation?
How much is attributed to chemicals? Field chemical application is causing habitat loss, not to mention outright poisoning to various pollinators, but is not easily quantifiable.
The loss of habitat from arid conditions may be a more rapid response and is currently being looked at by scientists and researchers, partially answering my question, “What happened to them?”
Partially because not only droughts, but damaging storms have also taken a toll with climate extremes here in the US. (source)
Sure there will be people reporting many butterflies in some places, but when did they start seeing them? That will matter for next year.
I am inclined to believe weather is playing a bigger part for all species – too hot and too dry in many places, especially in places not accustomed to both.
I have noticed the loss of dragonflies this year as well. I think when we talk of threatened species, we are prone to think polar bears and tigers. As a WWF member, they don’t let you forget the big predators either. But the smaller species like the butterflies are being studied, and WWF is on top of those studies too.
All the images in this post are from local wetlands. Wetlands are under stress from weather too. The Song Sparrows are in a meadow adjacent to the wetland.
Add that to the loss of grasslands due to the intensification of mono culture agriculture and traditional farm land being converted to development and we are losing the flower-rich meadows of a generation before.
In the special case of the Monarch, the fields are being planted with herbicide resistant crops that live through wide-spread spraying of “pest” plants. Cleared of milkweed with the use of herbicides to increase agricultural food production, the impact on the Monarch is quite serious.
Studies have shown the Monarchs return to these fields expecting milkweed and find none. Considering that Monarchs live only a short life (adults about a month), probability to mate and lay eggs decreases with lost time. (source) Add this to drought in areas not irrigated and the loss of the milkweed habitat is critical.
A few generations are produced each year and “the final generation lives about seven to eight months—the time required to make the “incredible feat” of flying from Canada and the U.S. to central Mexico, according to WWF.” (source) If a generation is without sustenance for the next, you can see how this would reduce numbers.
In the meadows I visit at Niagara Falls, milkweed used to be plentiful, but not this year. I can only assume the drought conditions in previous years took a toll on them.
It is sad when animals are at the whim of nature. It is disgusting when they are at the mercy of us and our actions. Will the detrimental farming practices ever change, or is it too late to matter?
What are we going to do genetically engineer our insect species like we do corn and other food products? Add a gene to make them utilize food sources foreign to their survival? Seriously though, what will science do?
“The fall in grassland butterfly numbers is particularly worrying, according to the report, because these butterflies are considered to be representative indicators of trends observed for most other terrestrial insects, which together form around two thirds of the world’s species. This means that butterflies are useful indicators of biodiversity and the general health of ecosystems.” (source, Science Daily)
It is important to help by planting milkweed (source, The Nature Conservancy), but it does not put a dent in the damage caused by big agriculture in chemical use, poor farming practice, and loss of habitat. Sad too.
Next nature walk you take, note what butterflies you are seeing. Are there less? Is your area suffering drought?