Northern elephant seals have made a significant comeback from near extinction. Fifty were left by the turn of the last century. Over 200,000 are believed to exist now. Excellent protections by both Mexican and American governments helped this recovery.
The monarchs had already left Natural Bridges. There have been significantly fewer butterflies each year. A docent told us some still remained at Lighthouse Field State Park. We found several clusters there.
|A cluster of monarch butterflies at Lighthouse Field State Park|
What's the problem? Basically, milkweed eradication. Monarchs lay their eggs solely on milkweed which is rapidly disappearing as farmland is turned to housing. Each year monarchs have fewer places to lay their eggs.
What can we do? Iowa recently started "bombing for butterflies." Golf-ball sized globs of milkweed seed, loam and clay are given to cyclists, runners, and basically anyone who will toss them around the countryside. We can all join this effort. Iowa is important for monarch migration, but there are many more miles from Canada to Mexico, one of the main migratory paths for these beautiful and vital insects.
I bought native milkweed seed at a state park and grow it in a pot. No butterflies yet, but I collect and scatter the seeds annually. Milkweed has large clusters of small flowerets. From pods, their seeds disperse on little parachutes like dandelion. I thought all milkweed was white but these blossoms are pink and orange. Luther Burbank Gardens in Santa Rosa have a section to encourage and feed local pollinators that includes milkweed. Perhaps more of us could incorporate local species into our gardens.
Which milkweed should you use? There are 73 varieties native to the Americas; buy one that comes from your area.
Where should you toss them? Think nature preserves, bogs, streambeds, empty lots, your own backyard... not your neighbor's flowerbed. Here's another site with more information. If you don't live in the Americas, ask what flowers (or weeds) best support the native pollinators of your country and plant those. Update: Monarch Watch sells and mails milkweed plugs. They also have a list of seed providers for various areas.
Did you know the collective noun for a group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope? This is how I interpret kaleidoscope. How appropriate. A kaleidoscope of butterflies. Wouldn't that be a sight?