|Drawing of a Monarch Butterfly|
I cannot believe that it is the last day of August and my first post this month. It has been a crazy summer, what with selling my house in New Paltz and getting so caught up in all the parts of the move that I lost my impetus to draw and write, but I feel the urge again. The days are getting shorter by about 20 minutes a week. I know I notice it and lament the move toward longer dark winter days although they are good days to draw and write.
This change in day length is a signal to all living things that times are changing. Much of our wildlife sees this as time to migrate. One group of fall migrators is the Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. These exquisite butterflies start to leave our area and migrate to Mexico in late August and early September--now. Before they leave, you may see, as I did in Riverside Park, the Monarchs doing some intense eating or nectaring. They use their proboscis, which is a long narrow tube almost like a straw that is coiled on the butterfly’s head and is the life straw for the creature. The Monarch stands on a flower in bloom and uncurls its proboscis and sucks the flower's nectar juice, a fluid that contains about 80% water and 20% sugar. The butterfly then curls the proboscis back up again and moves to the next nectar site. Monarchs are gorging now. Some say they are so intent on eating that you can easily pick one up, but I suggest not doing that and instead using your eyes to watch these little creatures filling their stomachs for a long trip. Monarchs are gathering as much as they can so they can build their body fat to give them the strength for their long migration and so that they can survive the winter in Mexico.
There is an organization called Monarch Watch that tags Monarchs before they migrate, so they can be tracked when they reach Mexico. The work is important because we have all heard about the decline in Monarch populations—there are estimated to be around 57 million Monarchs now but the average used to be closer to 300 million up to 1 billion. What is causing the decline? The caterpillars are finding it hard to get the milkweed that they need to survive because of changes in agricultural practices. The extreme heat and drought on the Mexican breeding grounds led to a record-breaking low population in 2012 and the population has not fully recovered and probably will not. But there are things that you can do to help it along.
If you have a garden, you can plant milkweed to feed the caterpillars. You can plant nectar plants that bloom during the fall migration time. You can avoid pesticides, and you can join the Monarch butterfly watch group to report any sightings of the butterflies. The MonarchWatch website has maps and places for you to enter data about Monarchs that you see. They will even send you free milkweed plants so you can become a part of keeping the Monarch population healthy and thriving.