“This is a Picture of a Monarch when they Used to . . . “

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com
Not this morning. I just came back into the house, after checking the front and sideyard Common Milkweed plants. Most of the 40 or so flower heads have gone to seed now, and with just 7 or 8 still in bloom, that nagging thought returns.

Back in the house, to my Neumade slide cabinet, I took out all of my Monarch slides, and checked their dates. The oldest of them lacked pencil-written dates, though one from June 2002 gave me pause. June 2002, a female nectaring contentedly on Teasel. Who among us in the last 3 years has been fortunate enough to see that?

My July ‘keepers’ were taken where this image of a female was taken, in Raccoon Creek State Park, just 45 minutes west of Pittsburgh (8 hours west of New York  City). July 12th and 27th, respectively.

My August best were taken in August ’09, ’10, and ’12, and ’14. The Septembers are dated ’07, ’10, and ’14.

I just don’t want to ever have to say to a young, interested child, “This is a picture of a Monarch butterfly, when they used to . . . . ”

Resigned to bad news, no. But I want this winged beauty in my future.


2 thoughts on ““This is a Picture of a Monarch when they Used to . . . “

  1. “What he said !”
    Very poignant post on what used to be a very commonly seen butterfly, well know and well loved by young and old. In two months I have only seen two monarchs flitting around my yard (one female several weeks ago and one male just the other day) but I know more have been here because yesterday I found three more newly deposited eggs. That brings my total of monarch eggs for the year so far to 15.

    Early in the month of June, in better years,( before monarch population went into such sharp decline) I would have fostered the first dozen eggs I could find. Left in my care, by north bound migrant females, stopping to rest in my yard to nectar and lay their eggs on the milkweed and nectar feast I have planted just for them.

    In early July I would put that emerging dozen of butterflies in my outdoor screen tent, let them breed and lay 100 or more eggs on potted milkweed I placed in the tent with them. After three days I would release this first dozen of adult butterflies back into the wild, to continue to breed and lay hundreds of more eggs, on other milkweed plants beyond my yard, and perhaps even beyond my county, state, or country since I live just across the lake from Canada. Keeping 50-75 eggs to raise myself, I would also share 50 – 75 eggs or tiny larvae with the local nature center to raise in day camp, and with other interested individuals in my neighborhood who wanted to watch a monarch progress from an egg to a fully mature monarch butterfly.

    At the beginning of August I would keep a dozen more of those newly emerging butterflies to breed and lay eggs, which would be my third and final batch of monarch wards. (these would be the ones who migrate to Mexico in the fall) Perhaps keeping 200 eggs this time to raise myself, and sharing another 100+ eggs or tiny larvae with local nature center to raise for their upcoming annual Monarch Butterfly Festival that is always held the last Saturday in August.

    On good years I lost track of how many monarch eggs I would raise and share with other interested parties to raise and release back into the wild. This year monarchs did not arrive back in our area until the beginning of July (instead of their usual arrival date of June 1st). This likely means that instead of three generations of monarchs, I will only have two generations to raise this summer. I only found 7 monarch eggs the beginning of July, and shared three of them with a young budding naturalist to raise. So instead of a dozen monarchs to use for breeding this first generation, I only have 4, so my chance of having a viable female or two is much lower. Who knows how many eggs will come from this pairing.

    I just collect 8 eggs this last week, after much searching on many stands of milkweed in my area, so I know there are monarchs out there breeding somewhere. There were none on the three common milkweed stands I have in my yard, so I had to drive several miles away from home to find these few eggs. I have only seen one male and one female monarch in my yard this summer, and perhaps 7 more during several days of intensive field work searching for wildflowers and butterflies.

    It is a sad and scary summer for monarchs, and all butterfly numbers seem way down to me. Lower numbers and less variety than what I usually see in my yard and in my travels to a variety of fields and habitat.

    In the middle of writing this response, I needed to take a break from this dreary train of thought, so I decided to go out and check my milkweed patches today. And there in my one stand of milkweed at the edge of the meadow I found 11 newly deposited eggs that were not there two days ago. Also found two lovely communities of milkweed tussock caterpillars munching happily away on the lower leaves of two four foot tall common milkweed plants.Then the sky turned black and it started to rain, so my search was called to a halt.
    Spirit is raised, Hope remains !


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