Concerns Arise Over Butterfly Populations - NECN


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Concerns Arise Over Butterfly Populations

Monarch butterflies, which were once a common site in New England gardens, have become rare



    Monarch butterflies, which were once a common site in New England gardens, have become rare. (Published Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014)

    Migrating monarch butterflies used to be a common sight in September. Now, the black and orange beauties are a rarity in New England gardens.

    "This summer, I haven't seen a one. I've not seen one monarch," said Kym Dakin, who has tended a plot at Maine's Yarmouth Community Garden for the last nine years.

    "I haven't seen a caterpillar in at least, probably two years, now," said Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist Doug Hitchcox.

    He says the drastic decline in their population has to do, in part, with illegal deforestation of winter habitat in Mexico.

    But he says industrial farming practices, mostly in the American Midwest, also plays a role.

    "There's all sorts of herbicides being used, sprayed on these genetically modified plants," said Hitchcox. It wipes out everything else, especially the milkweed."

    Milkweed is critical for monarchs - it is where they lay their eggs and is the caterpillars only food source before they form a chrysalis.

    Hitchcox says home gardeners can help by leaving so called "edge habitat" in their yards, where wildflowers, including milkweed, can flourish free from pesticides.

    Once milkweed is in the garden, it will self-seed for years. But if it isn't already present, home gardeners can purchase seed online or buy milkweed plants from nurseries that have begun to cultivate it.

    Dale Pierson, a plant wholesaler in Dayton, Maine, now grows three varieties.

    Due in part to a growing awareness of the monarch's plight, he says, demand is high.

    "We're sold out of common milkweed because we had somebody come and had a project, and they bought several hundred," said Pierson. "We'll bump our production up."

    It is not just the potential loss of an iconic species that's at stake, but also the monarch's role in the ecosystem. Like bees, butterflies are important pollinators.

    "It's extremely disturbing," said Dakin. "What else is going on? You know, are they the canary in the coal mine?"

    The absence of these delicate beauties is at least a reminder of nature's delicate balance and the roles our decisions have on it.

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