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Where have all the monarchs gone?

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Greg Peck
August 5, 2013

Maybe I just spend too many hours of daylight in front of a computer. But I was in Canada fishing last week, and on the drive home, I asked a couple of fishing partners—one from rural Janesville and one from Muscoda—if they, too, had noticed a lack of monarch butterflies this summer. They agreed that they couldn't recall seeing one.

I don't remember seeing one all summer—until one was flitting around the Boston ivy on our home when I arrived back from my morning dog walk with Molly on Sunday.

Later in the day, while watering our vegetable plants, I noticed a couple of small white butterflies dancing around Cheryl's flower garden, as well as one of those large, lovely swallowtail butterflies.

My buddies and I drove all day Saturday through Wisconsin on our way home from Canada. I don't recall hitting any monarchs—that would have been a common occurrence in years past.

In her column a month or so ago, Anna Marie Lux interviewed Darcy and Gary Hess of the town of Newark. They work with Monarch Watch to give these vanishing butterflies a hand up. The Hesses spend summers collecting minute eggs from milkweed plants growing around their rural home. After the eggs hatch indoors, the couple feed the caterpillars milkweed—the larvae's lone source of food—and protect them from diseases, predators and other hazards. When they've grown into mature butterflies, the couple attach tiny identifying tags and release them into the wild.

Monarchs migrate between here and central Mexico, where they spend winters. Years ago, Cheryl and I spent a vacation driving around Lake Michigan. At a spot in the Upper Peninsula, we drove down a long sliver of land to see the remains of a lighthouse. When we arrived, we noticed lots of monarchs. Then we read a plaque that said the butterflies congregate on this point of land in late summer before heading over the lake on their long flight south.

Deforestation in Mexico has wiped out some monarch colonies. Here in Wisconsin, human development, roadside mowing and agricultural chemicals have reduced the prevalence of milkweed. Last summer's drought and extreme heat did the plants no favors, either.

Seems to me that the Hesses and environmental groups deserve applause for educating people about the importance of milkweed and other native plants and doing their part to help these pretty, majestic butterflies.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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