Monarch Butterfly

Monarchs

by Cary Salter

TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Insect, Monarch, Butterfly, Butterflies, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Cary Salter

 

Talk about threatened or endangered, if the U.S. lost 90 percent of its population, only the number of people in Florida and Ohio would remain.  That’s currently the status of the Monarch butterfly, according to the Center for Food Safety, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Centers, joined by the Xerces Society and Dr. Lincoln Brower, renowned monarch scientist, have started legal action which would enforce monarch protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Centers, herbicides affecting milkweed–monarch host plant and major nectar source–along with insecticides, are major causes of monarch population declines.

No discussion of monarchs would be complete without discussing milkweed, their host plant and a rich source of nectar when blooming.  According to Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN), only 20 of the more than 100 species of milkweed are native to Florida.  Of those, only three are commonly available at nurseries, FANN said.  According to the National Wildlife Federation, planting non-native tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), is wreaking havoc in the monarch world.

But first, monarchs are most unique migrators.  In spring, they leave their over-wintering grounds (Mexico for easterns, and southern California for westerns) going north.  Each generation lasts two to six weeks.

Three to four generations later near summer’s end, that final generation metamorphoses differently, with a larger thorax holding more food reserves and entering reproductive ‘diapause’ (they don’t mate and lay eggs).  This generation makes the flight to the wintering grounds, never having made the trip before either way.

(One of many unanswered questions about monarchs is how they know the route three or four generations after the initial trip.  Sadly, the butterflies aren’t talking.)

Now the rub—some monarchs don’t migrate, typically those in Florida and other warm-wintered areas. These don’t enter diapause, they continue reproducing.  Their only host plant choice many times is non-native tropical milkweed, which also hosts a life-threatening, to monarchs, parasitic protozoan infection caused by OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha).

Seems the spores of OE die off when milkweed undergoes its winter die back corresponding to the reproductive diapause of migrating monarchs.  In warmer environs where tropical milkweed does not die back, the infection attacks monarchs encouraged by the abundance of tropical milkweed to breed during times migratory monarchs don’t breed.

In colder areas where milkweed dies, the OE spores also die.  New growth milkweed without OE is ready to feed the monarch larvae when breeding resumes.

According to the “Learn About Monarchs” web site, OE strikes primarily in the larval stage, causing deformity in the pupa (chrysalis), and during metamorphosis the adult butterfly improperly develops.  Spores can then be transmitted from infected adults.  Much is not known about this interaction and its impact on monarch population declines.

Federal budgets have set aside $3.2 million, earmarked for efforts to save monarchs according to National Geographic.  About $2 million will go toward conservation programs, with the balance seeding the Monarch Conservation Fund administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The foundation will solicit donations to match Fish and Wildlife Service funding.

Department of the Interior is still reviewing efforts to list monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, as of this writing.

Click on the Monarch Butterfly and larva photos below to enlarge.

 

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Insect, Monarch, Butterfly, Butterflies, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Betty Salter

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Insect, Monarch, Butterfly, Butterflies, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Betty Salter

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Insect, Monarch, Butterfly, Butterflies, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Betty Salter

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Insect, Monarch, Butterfly, Butterflies, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Cary Salter

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, The Great Outdoors, Titusville, Florida, Education, Insect, Monarch, Butterfly, Butterflies, Photo Album

Photo Courtesy of Al McKinley

 

To see more photos of Monarch Butterflies, click on this Monarch Butterflies Photo Album link.

To learn more about the plight of the Monarch Butterflies, click on this Help Save Our Monarch Butterflies Link.

To see more photographs of milkweed, click on this Milkweed Photo Album link.

 

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

Contact Us

To reserve the meeting room, contact:

Josiah Monk at Recreation Services for reservations on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Loretta Anne’ for all other times.