Monarch Butterflies for 2014?



Good Question

The reports this past year gave credence to what it seems everyone has been noticing these past years. Butterflies are on the decline. Soon all we might have of certain species is the romantic notion expressed in prose.

And the fault for the issues plaguing butterflies rests squarely on practices here in the US. As we mow down forests and meadows for farming and development, spray gardens, homes and crops with pesticide, and contend with weather extremes that our actions arguably contributed – the answer to the disappearance is simple. Look at it from viewpoint of a pollinator.




If you can’t locate a place to build your nest or lay eggs, find nectar on your bloom-specific flowers due to early bloom or drought, or have to travel well beyond your ability, then all that is left is the decline of your species. What happens is body fat is depleted in the insect and the butterflies lay fewer eggs when they travel beyond their range. That or they die of exertion or hunger before having a chance to reproduce.

Does this not sound like the plight of ducks in the last post, ducks not finding food and traveling beyond their range? All for differing reasons, but maybe not. Could the weather extreme this winter be related to climate change? But like ducks the butterflies are…



tough little insects, showing up in places where not seen previously.

It seems the US is a major area of disappearance in general of their around 700 different species. Not like they will disappear altogether, but quite a few are in decline, most notably the Monarch. Studies are predicting the US and Canada might lose the annual migration. This is the one new piece of study for 2014. Last year, it was pretty much consistent to what is being reported this year.

Last year I looked at this issue in Breakfast, Bedtime and Losing Butterflies. It is an impassioned post looking at the same issues being studied yet today. It asks questions that still have no answers.



How was this loss of migration determined? By winter studies of colony size in Mexico. “The largest area occupied by the butterflies was recorded in 1997 and reached 44.5 acres (18 hectares). This season, the area fell to 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares).” (source)  Simple math.



Science is placing blame on the loss of milkweed breeding grounds in the US and Canada. Loss of milkweed is likely concurrent with the use of herbicide-resistant genetically modified corn and soybean. The resulting rise in herbicide use is killing other plants present in the fields, such as milkweed.

Not the only detrimental factor, the weather extremes associated with climate change are looking to be the second major factor in butterfly decline. Even places where milkweed would grow, drought has caused the milkweed to disappear too.



So are the monarchs rebounding anywhere? In California, they are in some places. At Natural Bridges, an estimated 7,800 monarchs were seen this winter, up from 1500 the year before. So what lies in store for 2014 and the northward return trip each March?



It may be a weather dependent year to at least increase their chances. In 2012 the drought set them back and a cool start in 2013 did the same. 2014 having even temperatures and abundant rain could aid in their travels, but the rapidly disappearing milkweed from the Great Plains is likely to get worse. Farmers are under pressure to produce more corn due to a government mandate to add ethanol to gasoline and that means more butterfly favorable land will be turned to corn crops.



Chip Taylor, a biologist at the University of Kansas said the Monarchs have a 40 day window to arrive at their breeding grounds. “If they arrive too early, the population crashes, and if they arrive too late, the population crashes,” he said in an interview here.

What is becoming abundantly clear, is that science knows why they are disappearing, but not what to do about it. Plant more milkweed yes, but it needs to be in places where it is most needed. The weather, well that one is a crap-shoot. We just might be beyond a solution on both fronts.



You know what might work? An intense breeding program for declining species and an artificially constructed wintering refuge. Not unlike us humans to get our hands in more natural processes to fix things we broke!

Now I have a question for our local garden show, Plantasia that happened this past weekend. Who is running your Facebook page? And why are they stealing photos, image 6 above, post Tracery in the Landscape to PROMOTE YOUR event? Next time PLEASE ask first, and if given permission, make sure that image is DIRECTLY LINKED to the site where it was taken!!!!!

Ironically, an image of a sunflower in the same post was stolen by a local firm to use in print advertising last year. They stole it from an international photo site, 500px where I posted images, yet I caught them too. This really is getting to be a problem…



About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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56 Responses to Monarch Butterflies for 2014?

  1. Just to let my readers know. I’m having a hard time with a health issue right now and on top of that I can post nothing on my blog nor can I get any help from WordPress with whatever the problem is. So please pray for me that these issues will be resolved soon. Blessings to all, Natalie

  2. 1.  the photos are amazing!    2.  i followed the prompts and read the other posts.  again, amazing and comforting photos! 3.  thank you for calling attention to the decline;  down here in ecuador, there are lots of butterflies, hummingbirds, milk weed (different variety) and i do my share of spreading the seeds with childlike glee. 4.  milkweed seeds should be packaged (free) on all popular household items, sort of like the photos of missing children on the back of milk cartons…  there needs to be an international cooperation in saving the monarchs – i think this can happen – at least with a proactive campaign of placing those seeds in attentive hands of the world. 5.  shame on the copyright/image thieves.. they should know better!  you’re being nicer than i would have been!

    thank you for this post.



    • Thank you. I like your idea to make the seed readily available. Now to just get people to think it is more than a weed. I wish farms were mandated to have hedgerows. That would make a big difference if no GMO crops were allowed.

      • I think that the children will embrace this everywhere, and I think that the farmers might embrace it as well. They know that we’re doomed if we lose the bees, and yes, butterflies can be very destructive pests – they wipe out the maracuya/passion fruit here, but surely there’s a way they can live in harmony..
        Our milkweed is stunning, which helps a lot.
        gmo is so scary.. we’re still pretty gmo free here, though i saw some gmo cornmeal in the stores (the only corn meal – most sell corn flour) – and it came from columbia.

        educating the children seems to be the option that might affect most. if the children become passionate about it, then more will take note.

    • Debra says:

      Oh! What a lovely idea regarding the seeds. =) love that.

    • This response sums up what I was thinking as well.

  3. Debra says:

    boo to the image thieves —

    Gorgeous photos. Love the fluffy pod. Is the yellow flower above point 9 a solidago? Whatever it is, it sure is pretty against the butterfly’s orange.

    I have been proud of Austin’s response to the problem. People have gotten organized and planted a lot of milkweed plants throughout the city. We are one of the first stops on the route so hopefully communities north of us will join in the effort as their planting seasons arrive. It won’t solve the problem entirely but maybe it will help.

    I fear pollinators like the monarchs and bees are the canaries of North America’s grasslands.

    Milkweed is disappearing because of the widespread use of the herbicide-that-shall-not-be-named. We already know that herbicide not only kills wild flowers but also insects, worms and soil organisms — not to mention humans. But, could it possibly also affect insect neurology as the neonicotinoids do? What else are we risking? And how can anyone really know or give informed consent to continue using it or buying products grown in it when these poisons have never really been properly investigated by a neutral party? Even if everyone stopped using it this year, how long would it remain in the soil and water? How many years could butterflies make do with city plantings until the real mess is cleaned up? I kind of feel like this continent dodged a bullet with the DDT issue but never really understood the lesson.
    /rant sorry

    • It is so shocking to me that these products are allowed on the market. Science knows very well what each will do to what. They knew it from the development stage. It is chemistry. Combine this with that and you get this. They knew with DDT too. The scientists work for these big companies so how can they have a conscious in what they create? All that matters is the stockholders. Oh, they claim they developed GMO to assist in world hunger. I think it was for quick, easy crop growth that looked at the bottom line, not to mention, the preceding chemicals had already ruined much of the crop soils and poisoned many wetlands. When it is too late to do anything, that is when we will start to do something about it. I even read comments to findings that people said, “who cares about a butterfly.” Ironically the butterfly effect is coming to be real. Flap the wings and the world crumbles…

  4. lulu says:

    From the time we bought our house in Maiine, I was amazed by the number of monarchs. Last year the number dropped dramatically. While it may not be true in Maine, milkweed is disappearing and that is a primary food source. So very sad.

  5. If you haven’t already, you should read the novel Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. The back story is the problems faced by the monarch butterfly. It’s a great read.

  6. I am glad that while focusing on the Monarchs you emphasized that all butterflies and insects are declining due to our irresponsible practices. It was my understanding that a major factor for the Monarchs was the fragmentation of their wintering grounds in Mexico due to mudslides and development. Currently several images of mine are being used for commercial purposes by sellers on UK eBay without my permission. Ebay has received numerous complaints about one seller in particular and has done nothing about it.

    • It is true about the fragmentation in Mexico. This linked report was done with that in mind and the Mexicans have said the logging is now under control.They are the ones “blaming” the US for loss of breeding grounds, but there is no question that is a correct assumption. The report also made it the number one reason. Honestly, all the reasons work to their demise. Last year I read it was weather as the number one reason and I am more inclined to believe it is the most devastating one where we have the least control. As I said in the post last year, the butterflies are the most representative of all insect decline because people have a soft spot in their hearts for them. They get the most sympathy along with bees.

      I cannot imagine how often my images are used for commercial purpose since I found so many local abuses. This is the third time I caught local thieves. Two of my Swallowtails linked to a local business in the Falls. I took care of that also. So internationally, it must be staggering.

  7. I don’t know if you can say the blame rests solely on the US. The loss of suitable overwintering habitat in Mexico due to habitat loss and climate change is also a problem.

    • True, but the butterflies need a place to go to breed. They are not staying in Mexico. The report was swayed by the authors of the report being from Mexico, but having read it (on Science), I thought they were the most correct in their assessment. Our country by far uses the most destructive farming practices when it comes to “pest” insects and raising food no longer by tradition method. The soils are in serious trouble too. It seems like it will be a snowball effect in years to come.

      • That is true, there are many problems with pesticide use in this country and the effects are definitely cascading. We suspect the white nose syndrome in the bats might also be related; they feed on those insects affected by pesticides.

        • I am so sympathetic to the bats too. They have such a problem they are facing with populations declining due to disease. It seems every study one reads lately, that another bird, mammal or insect is teetering on the brink of decline. Funny how it all comes back to just a few things like loss of habitat, pesticide use and climate change. And these are not distinct from one another either. Each plays its part in the other.

  8. Phil Lanoue says:

    Wonderful photos of these beauties!
    Last summer we noticed a severe decline in butterfly sightings around here. Dragonflies however were everywhere. I’m sure that indicates something.

  9. milliontrees says:

    The California migration of monarchs is smaller and less well known than the migration to Mexico, but it is experiencing the same population decline. There was a small increase in the over-wintering population from 2012 to 2013, but the decline from 1997 to 2013 was much greater. In 1997, over 1.2 million monarchs were counted in the annual census of over-wintering monarchs in California. In 2013, only 211,375 were counted. This annual census is available here:

    Although the reasons for the decline of the California population are probably similar to those in the Midwest, we have another important factor here. Monarchs roost in the tall non-native trees along the coast of California. These trees are being destroyed because native plant advocates demand that they be destroyed. Unfortunately, native trees will not grow where non-natives now grow. The native landscape in coastal California is grassland and dune scrub. If native plant advocates succeed in their quest to return to the historic landscape, that will be the end of the monarch migration in California.

    Thank you for this thoughtful and informative post.

    • I did read on earlier numbers and you are very right it was a serious decline. Any increase now is hopeful though. I got further impassioned reading your posts on Monarchs and the loss of the Eucalyptus. It will be a very sad day if California loses the migration too. California is responsible for much of the Western migration and it would effect many places seeing Monarchs each year.

  10. mariekeates says:

    A very interesting post. I’m glad I do my bit to help the butterflies by not using pesticides and growing butterfly friendly flowers. Pity more people don’t do the same.

  11. bittster says:

    It will be sad to lose this amazing American migration, and I’m planting my share of milkweed, but I’m not sure if it will be enough. Monarchs may just become another one of those butterflies which are a real pleasure to see come by, but just not as common as you’d like….
    The photo theft is rampant. Do you know how to search by image? In less than a minute I was able to find more stolen pictures. Tracking them all down would be a job in itself.

    • I do know how with TinEye for instance. The problem is it is almost impossible when it is international. Google has lent assistance, but that only works for the web. I had an image used and put in a book. They did contact me after they used it though. GWGT was given credit for the image, but I wanted my name used and they told me it was already in at the publishers and had to print as submitted, so I knew they used it before asking.

      As for butterflies, there will always be butterflies, but we will likely lose certain specialized species. There are some in further decline than even the Monarch, one being the Common Blue. Grassland butterflies are very much affected by weather, and habitat loss.

  12. I sincerely hope the human race finds its balance before it’s too late.
    As for the stealing… it seems that with all the technological evolution etc there is still a part of our societies which is ignorant, uneducated and undeveloped!

  13. Alain says:

    The Monarch are a special case as they have just about disappeared. I live in an area of farmland reverting to nature where milkweed (the common kind A.syriaca) grows profusely. Until last summer we always had numerous Monarchs but we saw only 2 in 2013. It looks pretty hopeless. There must be very few of them left since they cannot even make it to places where there is lots of milkweeds.

    • I agree. That is why I mentioned that areas where nectar and breeding plants are most needed should be the highest concern. Here, we had lots of milkweed in meadows, then drought hit for a few years where it got harder to find the milkweed. It was so few areas having them. I distributed thousands of seed in one area one year, and only about twenty plants took. I know we are at the northern end of migration (into Ontario too) so having milkweed here means little if they cannot make it here in the first place.

  14. Indie says:

    It is so sad what is happening with the population of Monarchs. We home gardeners do what we can, but there are probably large tracks of land devoted to big farming where the milkweed has disappeared (and the drought certainly hasn’t helped). So very sad if we are witnessing the end of an era.
    Too bad about the image thieves. I have found pictures of my red house used in advertising for paint companies. Not cool!

    • I hope that the Great Plains states do heed the warning by the study. I know our bread basket lies there, but so does the future of many food crops we eat (well not wind pollinated corn) if pollinators start to disappear.

  15. I’m all in favor of a breeding program to save monarchs and other disappearing species. This past year almost all butterflies were rare, even skippers. The only species I saw every day was the cabbage white. Very disheartening.

    • I was being facetious in my closing, but it may come to that one day. We may need to plant them a new wintering ground, but I can imagine that a monumental feat. They need a certain humidity level, foggy conditions and elevation in addition to the right plants. It would be more complicated then just planting the right trees. In California, I think it is the conditions of the area more than the Eucalyptus trees themselves. Maybe study needs to go in that direction.

  16. I agree entirely with Debra, and she says it so well. Sorry–I know that sounds lazy, but I’m feeling very down about this entire issue lately. I feel like when I post about planting Milkweed and talking about it with friends that they don’t care or they think I’m a little “touched” to care about butterflies so much. But the butterflies are just the start–the “canaries in the cornfield” as researcher Lincoln Brower has said. I also have some personal issues going on with some wonderful farmer friends, and the entire issue is just getting so complicated. This post is fabulous, Donna. I’m so sorry about your images. That is just wrong! I don’t even mind if people use my images if they ask first. But yours are works of art!

    • I feel as you do in many ways. How can one talk to people making their livelihoods in farming. To compete with big business farming they almost have to “go along” with damaging methods. People care far less about these issues with pollinators, but will when it affects their grocery purchases. They may say “so what” on insects and expect science to further make a mess by trying to fix the problem, anything to have convenient cheap produce.

  17. Chloris says:

    A very interesting post and superb photos. It is not just beautiful butterflies that are threatened in this country, but moths too are suffering and many species have become extinct. Honey bees are suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder and just dying. A third of Britain’s Dragon Flies are under threat. Frogs and Hedgehogs are becoming scarce.
    Loss of habitat, pollution and climate change are all having an irreversible effect on our wildlife.

    • I am so aware of the mounting problems of ALL wildlife. Bees and butterflies are what most people are starting to see disappear. Worldwide one reads studies like you mentioned, but how many are going to care for an insect or animal they never see in their region? That is kinda of the problem facing those that do care. It is the “not in my backyard” mentality. I do believe bloggers help spread the word. I know locally that my posts on environmental issues have encouraged a few to plant native or even non-native nectar bearing blooms and see the life it creates on their properties. I spec plants in designing that changes the way people see traditional landscape planting. We do what we can. More of us need too also, so that the understanding and appreciation grows.

  18. Show a photo of a monarch butterfly to any elementary student and they will tell you that is the butterfly that goes to Mexico. They all learn about the monarch butterfly but not about how to help them. That needs to be the next step. When I go to Michigan in the summers I see common milkweed growing all over in ditches along the roadside. The problem is it all gets mowed down too early in the season and the monarchs can’t use the plants on the southern migration. There needs to be much more education and people need to take action in their local communities and their gardens.

    • It is true, kids are good at recognizing the Monarch. Did you ever show them a Viceroy? Do you have them there? I bet the kids would find it interesting how they look very much alike and why, but the habits and living conditions are so different. I know what you mean on the mowing of milkweed. They do that here too or burn the meadows. At least when they burn, most insects have hatched (well, except those overwintering).

  19. I read an article recently concerning the decline. It is very sad. I usually see them in the garden in summer and fall, but I did not see any last year. Perhaps I missed them? I hope? Each year I plant more milkweed in hopes of supporting the population. I hope and pray we do not lose these very special pollinators. Wonderful post!

    • Last year was really bad here as well, and understandably so. Far too many negative factors hindering the migration to this far. I hope they rebound, even in small steps. It would certainly be a travesty if the only way we see them is in butterfly conservatories.

  20. A.M.B. says:

    Thank you for the beautiful photos and the reminder about a pressing issue. I will be planting milkweed. It might not solve the problem, but at least it’s something I can do in my own backyard.

  21. Lula says:

    First, your pictures are beautiful and do honor to the post. Second, what a terrible situation with pesticides and the loss of many species. What are they thinking? So many dishonets people using other’s photos! I really hate that and I am sorry you have to go through it.

  22. Amanda says:

    Your post is very robust and informative! Thank you so much for sharing. I am going to have to see if I can dedicate part of my garden (which has tons of the yummy flowers bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds like) to milkweed. Not sure if Monarchs travel this way much, so I’ll have to research. Thanks again!

  23. Amanda says:

    Reblogged this on Amanda McKee and commented:
    A very informative post on Monarch Butterflies that feels extremely passionate without being biased. A much read for nature lovers.

  24. Milkweed is one of my favorite plants. Such beauty in several stages of its lifecycle: The fragrance of emerging flowers is intoxicating, the flowers themselves a gorgeous purple, and the resultant seed pods other-worldly. My family knows that I want milkweeds to be planted on my grave when the time comes!!!HA!
    Seriously, I’m wondering if USA takes the biggest rap for pesticide use when in fact, other countries don’t even regulate such obvious monsters like DDT…
    Thank you for an artistic scientific article with plenty to learn alongside colorful photos.

  25. Unconscionable when people in essence steal photos…we have lost our sense of what is the right thing to do. One reason I am tracking milkweed and monarchs in my garden is to see what is happening related to weather and report the findings. This is so disturbing again but it is not like we don’t know this is happening and that we have the means to fix it…we choose not to. Even not mowing the roadsides would help.

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