Butterflies need your help.Specifically, the orange and black monarch butterflies that flutter in and out of Baldwin County yards as they migrate each fall and spring need what you might call bed and …
Butterflies need your help.
Specifically, the orange and black monarch butterflies that flutter in and out of Baldwin County yards as they migrate each fall and spring need what you might call bed and breakfast for the night - yards and neighborhoods that welcome them with flowers and plants to consume and nuzzle inside.
This summer, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) added the migratory monarch butterfly to its Red List of threatened species and classified it as endangered.
The group evaluates species globally and recognizes those that may face the threat of extinction. The hope is that the evaluation will draw attention to the species and help identify action that nations, and even individuals, can take to help stop the decline.
The designation is different from that of the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 which gives federal protection to imperiled species. Animals considered endangered under that law generally cannot be hunted or harassed and their habitats must remain untouched.
"It helps draw attention, but there is no legal protection attached to it," said Jaret C. Daniels, Ph.D., associate chair of the Department of Natural History at the Florida Museum of Natural History located at the University of Florida.
There are three populations of monarchs in North America.
The first makes its home in southern Florida and does not migrate. The next group lives west of the Rocky Mountain range and travels to southern California for the winter months. Its numbers have severely declined in recent years by nearly 99 percent.
The final group that lives on the eastern half of the continent is the population that makes its way through Alabama as it travels south to Mexico for the winter. This group too has seen significant decline in the last three decades, possibly as high as a loss of 80 percent, Daniels said.
No monarch butterflies have been recognized by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, despite several activist groups calling for the designation.
As the butterflies make their way to the border, they fly hundreds of miles a day, eventually arriving at a single gathering point in central Texas before crossing the border into Mexico. For several weeks beginning in November, millions of butterflies travel the distance in giant, fluttering orange masses that tourists travel from around the world to witness.
As the habitats those butterflies rely on to feed and shelter them on the cross-continent trek disappear, so do the butterflies. Daniels said climate change, the conversion of land to agricultural needs, the use of insecticides and a loss of breeding grounds are all key drivers of the butterfly's decline.
"With urban development there are not as many resources for the monarchs, both when they are breeding in the summer and when they are migrating," Daniels said.
But you can help.
Daniels said the black and orange butterflies are still widely seen in neighborhoods and yards, which gives people a connection to how they can help the natural world.
He suggests filling yards with flowering plants that give the butterflies nectar and growing native varieties of milk weed which will also help other pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds. Seven species of bees are currently on the U.S. endangered species list.
Daniels said to wait to plant milkweed until the spring. Any plant put in the ground now may encourage migrating butterflies to stick around through the winter months, meaning an eventual frost will kill them.
The more help humans give the butterflies the more their numbers will stop fading, he said.
"The monarch is not going to fall off the face of the Earth tomorrow, but their migratory event is at risk," Daniels said.
"We have the ability to lose that migratory event as we know it today, and since we don't know the dynamics of population, we don't know the ramification that will hold to the species as a whole," he said.
Plant some flowers. Stop using chemical insecticides. These simple changes will help.
"It's simple and has a broader benefit and helps beautify your yard," Daniels said.