Monarch Butterflies Head South After a Disappointing Year
Since the middle of August Monarch Butterflies have been a steady presence in the front garden. There have been at least two fluttering around almost every day. This past Sunday there were three, passing through on their way south to Mexico.
This year started on a promising note for Monarch Butterflies. The population at the overwintering sites covered just over 4 hectares, or about 10 acres. This was a big improvement on the numbers from recent years. The lowest population on record covered just 0.67 hectares during the winter of 2013-2014.
After this positive start the Monarchs were devastated by a freak ice storm in March, while they were still in their roosting areas. Weather along the migration route was also less than favorable in May and June.
Chip Taylor, who writes the blog MonarchWatch.org, is predicting that the 2016-2017 overwintering population in Mexico will cover between one and two hectares – at most half of the prior winter’s population.
It’s a hard truth that a single storm can have a major negative impact on the Monarchs. This will continue to be a worry as long as the population remains so small. All the more reason for everyone in the path of migrating Monarchs to plant more Milkweed.
Anyhow, the three Monarchs in the front garden on Sunday morning were joined by a single Black Swallowtail. All were nectaring on the Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia), which is definitely a butterfly favorite for a number of species.
In the picture above I managed to get a Monarch and a Swallowtail into the same frame.
There were far more Tithonia flowers than butterflies, and yet the Swallowtail and the Monarchs repeatedly chased each other off of the same flower. In this behavior they reminded me of some people I could name.
As founder of the International Society for the Promotion of Tithonia (ISOPROT), I would be remiss in not repeating that Monarchs are exceedingly grateful to any gardeners who offer Mexican Sunflower along the fall migration path. Plus, look at that bright,clear orange – how can you resist?