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Butterflies And Milkweeds

March 3, 2016
by Jane Whitmore , Emmetsburg News

Monarch butterflies are receiving about as much press as some presidential candidates recently. Last week, the World Wildlife Fund announced the orange-and-black butterflies may be recovering.

These little winged creatures migrate 2,500 miles each year from Canada to Mexico where they gather in a mountain forest. This year the area they covered was three times larger than last year. This winter's survey reported that adult butterflies covered approximately 10 acres of forest. During the last three winters, overwintering butterflies occupied three or fewer acres.

It looks as though the monarch population has increased. Additional acres of milkweed may be a factor in this increase. If so, it's a start.

The milkweed is the sole source of food for monarch caterpillars. This multi-generational migration is a mystery. Who knows how the fledgling butterflies know their way to the same mountain forest every year. And then they come back north for the summer.

An article from the U.S. Department of Agriculture came out before the announcement from the World Wildlife Fund. The U.S.D.A. announced a new conservation effort (last November) to help agricultural producers in Iowa and nine other states provide food and habitat for monarch butterflies. This targeted effort in the Midwest and southern Great Plains by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $4 million in 2016 to help combat the iconic species' decline.

NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help producers and conservation partners make butterfly-friendly improvements to farms and ranches.

Then we hear from the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium: Although the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico has sharply rebounded, leaders of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium say that sustained efforts of Iowa crop and livestock farmers, landowners, conservationists and others are critical to ensuring continued improvements to monarch conservation.

"These monarch butterfly population numbers are encouraging," said Sue Blodgett, chair of the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. "The overwintering numbers for 2015-16 provide us time to develop and implement long-term habitat conservation strategies that will provide the foundation for a resilient monarch population."

The bottom line is milkweeds. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium says:?declines in monarch butterflies have been attributed to various factors, including loss of overwintering and spring and summer milkweed habitat.

If we want to keep our monarch butterfly population, we need to provide the food they need:?milkweeds. See if there is a spot to plant them at your home this year.



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