Mild Ontario summer helping monarch butterfly populations
If you’ve been thinking it seems like there are more monarch butterflies around this year, you may be right.
Monarchs have been making the most of mild spring and summer conditions this year along their migration route from Mexico. And it appears there may be more monarchs in Ontario in 2017 than in the past four years, says a University of Guelph biologist who has been tracking the butterflies for several years.
“My impression is that monarchs are fairly abundant and widespread across much of southern Canada and the northern U.S. this summer. Certainly there are more monarchs this year than in the last few,” says Tyler Flockhart, a post-doctoral researcher whose recent work includes tracing the birthplaces across North America of monarch populations that overwinter in Mexico.
But while it is a hopeful sign, one good year does not mean monarch butterflies, which are considered a species of special concern in Ontario, are out of danger.
“I am a cautious optimist. I hope this is a sign of good things to come but the overall opinion of experts is that low populations will be the new normal,” he says. “Monarchs are still limited by habitat availability and the majority of evidence suggests it is the habitat on the breeding grounds that matters most. The risk is that the low population will still fluctuate due to weather events, so if we have a really bad year (or multiple really bad years), then the population as a whole is at a significant risk.”
There are things you can do to help.
- Plant native plants, especially milkweed and nectaring plants, in your garden. This will help monarchs as well as other beneficial insects and birds. Find information about different types of milkweed here.
- Report it when you spot monarchs. Scientists like Flockhart rely on data from watchful citizens to help with their research. Check out www.e-butterfly.org where you can log butterfly sightings. Mission Monarch encourages participants to identify and map milkweed locations as well as monarch butterflies, eggs and caterpillars.