Breakfast, Bedtime and Losing Butterflies

SongSparrowFlyingI wonder if you have caught on to my auto-upload of posts yet? I have been too busy lately, so I have them set to auto-post at 8am and 8pm for breakfast/bedtime reading.

TigerSwallowtailFlight

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?

meadow

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…

MeadowBee

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.

Swallowtail

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)

TwoBeesDandelion

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?

tigerSwallowtailBuckhorn

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)

SongSparrow

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.

TigerSwallowtailInMeadow

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.

Calico_Pennant_Dragonfly

GoldfinchInMarsh

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.

SongSparrow-Singing

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.

Clover

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.

Common_Ringlet

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.

SongSparrowMeadowOur area only has had a year to date 2 inch increase in rainfall over last year. Last year we were in drought conditions. Intense rain that came this year resulted in runoff.

SwallowtailMeadow

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?

SilveryBlue_Glaucopsyche_lygdamusThe image of the Common Blue above is in serious decline.

“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)

Swallowtail

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.

GoldenrodAtWatersEdge

Bumblebee

Next nature walk you take, note what butterflies you are seeing. Are there less? Is your area suffering drought?

DriedLeaves

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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48 Responses to Breakfast, Bedtime and Losing Butterflies

  1. Patrick says:

    Hey my dear learned friend,

    Excellent recap of this dire situation. Heard of the 59% decrease earlier in the year and was stunned and full of fear for the future. Don’t know how much you can blame pesticide use on a single year. There has not been a huge increase in acreage in the same year. While still an important factor, I think the drought and climate change have been bigger factors.

    On another front, I’ve been re-watching Ken Burns’ Our National Parks on Netflix live streaming (worth my $8 a month subscription by itself). A common thread throughout many episodes is influentials using the commercialization of Niagara as a call to action for the need to create a National Park system. How detrimental has that commercialization impacted the aesthetics of what you see today?

    Thanks,

    Patrick

    • Hi Patrick. I have to look into that program on Netflix live, thank you for mentioning it. I am sure it would be something I would enjoy. As for Niagara, how it is affecting it is with all the new development they are doing. I can name two things they did very depressing in my view. Actually I may do a post and note more. One thing, they changed Three Sisters Island where tourists can no longer get close to the rapids. That was the whole draw of the islands, to meet the water and ‘feel and hear’ the fury. Granted, many people did stupid things by the rapids, but it will be the last photos I get now of the thousands of waterfowl perched and fishing out in the rapids. Now I will have to show those images, since I will no longer be able to access that area, unless I do it illegally.

      The second thing they did, was a lot of heavy construction on the gorge walking trails. Yes the stairs and rails are safer, but they bulldozed or scraped a very wide path. In doing so, they brought up rock and instead of a smooth walking path like before, there are deep ruts from rock being uncovered and those being pulled out. Now erosion is lifting the soil and washing it away. They also dug out stabilizing trees and vegetation making the path wider, increasing the erosion. I have to see what they do now that the trail is pretty unstable for walking. Both my husband and myself almost twisted ankles and fell walking on it this past weekend. Falling is dangerous if one falls toward the cliff too.

      As for the pesticides, I too thought the same thing. They have been around for so long that this immediate decline could not be attributed to them in a big way. That is why science is looking at global warming now. The loss is too rapid. But on the flip side, if weather stabilizes and becomes more mild again without the big fluctuation of extremes, butterflies would rebound as would some of their habitat. The chemical usage on the other hand is unlikely to change. Development though is always changing. We are always building.

  2. acuriousgal says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking post.

  3. ginnietom says:

    very professional and informative post…so beautiful images…taken from real life
    a great day…
    werner

  4. Hi Donna: I find the monarch butterfly situation particularly sad. I hope we haven’t gone too far for them to come back. I have to say, though, that I didn’t see many last year either. But we had extreme drought in my part of the state from June through early August. And that was true throughout much of the Midwest corn belt. It was awful, and I’ve never experienced anything like it before and hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon. Climate change is scary–but that drought was surreal. This year is cooler and wetter, and I am seeing more Monarchs–and have been since June. Not as many as two years ago–but more than last year. Maybe there’s hope. Regarding the dragonflies (and damselflies)–we’ve had more this year than I remember having in the past. They were so plentiful in June and July–it was wonderful! But we had a lot of rain during those months, so I’m sure that helped. I’m feeling a mix of worry and hope–worry that we’ve just begun with the effects of climate change, and hope that maybe we will hit a plateau and be able to correct some of the ills. Regarding the GMO corn–I have to be honest and say that DOES worry me–for so many reasons.

    • I am beginning to fear we have hit critical. I cannot see it ever getting better for the environment with our man made causes. Too many people and everyday it grows and grows. Too many mouths to feed so science has no choice in finding better ways to feed the world. I can’t fault science, but I do fault the profit makers. Because money is involved, the bottom line will always come first. Nothing we can do about that either. My biggest fear is the papers I read on climate extremes. Storms are intensifying worldwide. So are droughts. Wildlife could never adapt to rapid change. What I read is they need gradual change. Both extremes are wiping out habitats. I am really concerned for our coastal wetlands too. I have a post on that as well. I don’t live near coastal wetlands, but my photos are some of the same birds, but just in a local river wetland, but the percent of endangered wildlife that do live in coastal areas is really what is on the environmentalist’s radar.

  5. Great shots and information. It is scary to think future generations may not get to enjoy the many wonders of nature we have now.

  6. This is very sad… I didn’t know.
    Thank you for this very informative post, Donna.
    I do hope this planet regains it’s balance… one day!
    🙂

    • I hope they can recover as weather hits cycles, but there is a farm bill currently to help save grassland butterflies. Actually there are 20 bills, but the CRP is helping even more than just the birds with cleaner air and waters.

  7. It is a very dire situation but I am holding out hope. Nature is strong and there are many people who are working toward the cause. We’ve had a few years in a row of extreme temperatures and that hasn’t helped but this issue is out there and people are being educated everyday about what needs to be done to help. Baby steps, but I am hopeful the monarchs will survive.

    • I wish I could be more optimistic. I should just stop reading reports and weather watching. 😦 Do I think people listen? No, I think more sympathize and even talk a good talk, but don’t turn that talk into actions by reducing their footprint in any meaningful way. Do I even think I do a good job at it? No, because I catch myself falling into the trap of “Well, I will do it tomorrow” syndrome. We all do. We use plastics everyday. We eat food from mega farms. We use cars even needlessly. We let water run when too inconvenient to turn off the spigot. We use detergents and pharmaceuticals that are harmful, we still use aerosol cans and Styrofoam, the list is endless. I try better than most I think, but living in a modern world means no getting away from all the products and actions that are an insult to this planet. Anyone who thinks they are truly “green” is just being naive. I cannot get away from the feeling that we have hit a critical mark. It will unlikely be in my lifetime, but it seems likely for the next. Many also would not care if one species of butterflies is no more. They would say there are others. But many are alarmed at the loss of bees. It is more translatable into what it means to people, because they see the connection to food.

  8. Carolyn says:

    Ironically our monarch count is up this Summer…two! We have seen two in our gardens. That’s up from none last year and one the year before. Actually two is the most we have ever seen in our gardens. Add to that two Tigertails and this is a stellar year. Noticed in my morning walk a grand stand of milkweed in a friend’s side yard. She was curious last summer about why I let it grow in my otherwise nicely manicured yard. I smiled to think she’s converted to my way of thinking.

    • I only saw one Monarch this year. That is alarming because there were numerous in our area. The meadows at the falls have no visible amount of milkweed, so it makes sense the Monarchs are missing. The insects and animals use wildlife corridors (for flying and travel) and if a link (the pit stops) is missing in those corridors, what are they to do? Private lands are the key. You and your neighbor are doing a good thing. In my next post on my own garden, I was hit hard by one of my images. My garden has my pseudo urban meadow out front and I took the photo looking up the street all the way to Main Street. What did I see? Nothing but front yards of just grass. It hit me that this is precisely the broken corridor that insects see. Sure I live one half block from the gorge where there is wild lands, but translate that all across America. City after city, suburb after suburb….

  9. catmint says:

    hi donna, good analysis. Of course it’s the weather, and human actions that have led to this situation. It’s the same here in Australia. We’re having an election in a few weeks time, and most people care about cost of living as an issue – climate change is not a priority, so the politicians don’t give it the urgency it deserves. The Greens seem to be doing very badly in the polls. Go figure …

    • I just posted links to bills before the House that address these issues. Do I think they will pass? Do I think big business will lobby against them? Do I think monies will be appropriated? Even would it matter? The same tune is being sung worldwide. People see the problems right before them, but personal comfort, greed and ambivalence are strong motivators. Ask anyone to give up a convenience they are so accustomed and it just doesn’t happen, and especially for a butterfly. This will be the Butterfly Effect for real one day.

  10. Phil Lanoue says:

    Our butterfly and bee population is way down this season. Worst ever. Dragonflys however are everywhere.
    Tremendous images!

    • Many have been having seasonal rains, where my town has not. I have been hearing of large numbers of dragonflies in places, but not here for some reason. Even around ponds I have seen many previously, they are absent. I did research dragonfly decline and read where they are in decline some places. I guess with them, it really depends where one lives.

  11. A.M.B. says:

    Oh, I had no idea the butterfly population has decreased! How sad. We were at Longwood Gardens yesterday and saw a number of butterflies, but I wouldn’t know whether it’s a normal amount. We also saw lots of bees, and, unfortunately, one of them stung Maram while we were there. Thankfully, she ended up having a good time anyway, and Longwood Gardens remains one of her favorite places.

  12. Our are has been hit hard. Snows then rains then heat then cold and more rain I had one swallowtail and a few honey bees and a couple of Bumble Bees lots of ant hills and a few yellow jackets nesting in my broken truck and maybe 15 hornets and still no Monarchs 😦 Butterfly bush is just starting to bloom and My Rugogas (sp) are full of big yummy hips and no blooms 😦

    So different from last year. Half my plants never made an appearance either but we have lots and lots of Berries and Bears and healthy thick green forests.

  13. Of Gardens says:

    The decline in the Monarch butterfly population has certainly been noticed and commented upon. I heard an excellent lecture last year on the subject, and so now I am able to tell the difference between a Monarch and Viceroy. Lots of Viceroys seen hovering in my garden so the excitment I felt when at last I spotted a Monarch was intense. Such magnificent creatures. I plant milkweed just for the Monarchs, and hope that they know it is in my garden, and come round to have a bit.

    • I did a post on telling the difference a long time ago. The two prefer different habitats to lay eggs, so that makes finding them easier. You probably learned the Monarch does not taste good, but the imitator does to predators. Good to look like another that tastes yucky.

  14. Nick Hunter says:

    Excellent post with a critical message articulated very well! (I have several posts pertaining to flowers and butterfly visitors that I think would be of interest to you – most recently a Giant Swallowtail on Phlox)) .

  15. As you know, I am one of those who has seen a big decline in butterflies. The situation is not hopeless, but it will take significant action by governments and corporations to turn things around. I am reminded of the impending crisis, a few decades ago, regarding the erosion of the ozone layer. A very serious problem, but a plan was created and implemented and progress was made. Why is that not happening with climate change? It seems our ability to take in the big picture and see past short-term interests has declined along with the butterflies.

    • The Mexican researchers are trying to convince US growers to change farming practices. They themselves are making headway on preserving the lands and preventing the logging. It will take a concerted effort I am sure. There are bills submitted on climate change, but the problem is big business. We need to have the momentum they had in the UK on putting a hold on neonicotinoids for instance. Of course the bee keeps are spearheading this push, but having the face of an insect on which people depend helps all insects.

  16. Sarah says:

    Great post and pix, Donna. Enjoying the conversation and info. I’m very disturbed about the decline of the Monarchs too. I planted many monarch friendly plants in the guerrilla garden across the road from where I live in the city of Toronto, and left native milkweed in my own garden. I saw my first monarch last week, but haven’t seen it since. Usually there would be tons by now. Very worrying.

    • That is wonderful Sarah. I wish more would do the same. In our area they are having a Monarch Butterfly Festival on August 31 at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary, Beaver Meadow Facility. Buffalo Audubon Society will be hosting a plant sale, selling native milkweed. It is a difficult plant for my own garden, but I do have butterfly weed here. I was thinking of buying some and sneaking it in the meadows at the State Park. I don’t know if they would let me plant it, but I could ask.

  17. It seems like I have a lot of swallowtails this year but I’ve only seen a few of the other species that usually forage in my garden. Our early summer was unusually moist so it took a while for the butterflies to appear. Monarchs don’t usually appear here until late summer so it’s too early to determine if I have a decline in my usual numbers. But I have tons of bees. 🙂

  18. Brian Comeau says:

    I have noticed the auto upload…. 🙂 but I still don’t know how you do it all. I struggle with a blog every week or 2. Your post are so well written and photographed. This one is a prime example. So incredible again.

    • Thanks Brian. This post was started a while ago with the text and links, but the images are from a walk I took last week. I do my script preparing/loading of the photos and drag them in place. Not much time spent on photos. In a post I have coming up, I show how I get my photos in lousy light where they are not that bad.

      I like to spend an hour a day just walking and relaxing, and of course than camera is always in hand.

  19. As usual your pictures are stunning especially the first one. I am having an overabundance of dragonflies this year…they are everywhere thick in the air landing on us in the garden. i think it is the pond that helps. They have been a pleasure with the loss of the butterflies.

  20. Lovely photos.. I have a Monarch Waystation and have not found one egg or seen one monarch with about 40 common milkweed plants. I also have butterfly and swamp milkweed in my yard and not one. We may lose the monarch migration which brings them up north to us in western NY… Michelle

    • I have heard that from others as well. The studies do not look promising for a recovery either. It would take a number of consecutive years of temperate weather and milkweed replenishment in the flight range. They don’t get to us because the problem is mostly in the Midwest. If a generation can not be hatched or if it is and weather is a factor, they will not live to make the next for generations to make it this far North and East. No wonder for 30 years that female Monarchs are down in the East too. Why even come that far when the flight path is interrupted, unsuitable and compromised?

  21. Sue Link says:

    I enjoyed your article and as of yet, have not seen any monarchs. This is very unusual for this area because we have a place on the Eastern end of Lake Ontario, and this time of year we used to see hundreds of them migrating south. I think quite a bit of the problem around here is the swallow-worts. The monarch is fooled by laying their eggs on this plants and the plant is poisonous to them. I hope they can eradicate this invasive plant soon.

    • I will have to look into the swallow-wort. Not seeing the Monarchs this year seems to be that they never made it this far North and East. I will be interested in the studies that will report on this next year. The reasons for decline are becoming more and more evident as species become less and less each year.

      • Sue Link says:

        Here is an article on the black swallow-wort that I found on the web. http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/cylo1.htm It is really bad here in Jefferson County, NY. I’ve seen another article that claims that this is the epicenter of that plant. May I use a link to this page in my blog at some point in the future? I’m interested in posting a similar article about the decline of the monarch/butterflies. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us.

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