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Save the Monarch Butterfly

Just about everyone loves seeing a monarch butterfly. Brilliant orange and black, it’s a great representation of our Maryland colors. However, monarchs are in serious trouble. Their numbers are down more than 90% from 20 years ago. Many factors are cited—the impact of pesticides, the loss of habitat, deforestation from logging and storms in their over-wintering area in Mexico. But there is hope for recovering the monarch and a nationwide effort of volunteers is helping to save the monarch. And the best thing that anyone can do to help is to plant milkweed and other native wildflowers in your yard or along the edges of farm fields.

Milkweed is essential to the life-cycle of the monarch butterfly. Adult monarchs feed from the nectar of the flowers and lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. When the eggs hatch and develop into caterpillars, the caterpillars feed on the leaves and then spin their chrysalis and metamorphose into adults which continue their amazing migration through several generations before returning to Mexico.

Last winter, the over-wintering population of monarch butterflies in Mexico suffered a significant setback, and winter numbers are estimated to be down 27% from 2016. Observers speculate that this was due to late winter storms last spring, and somewhat harsh winter conditions this winter. The World Wildlife Fund and Mexico’s Commission on Protected Areas announced the troubling news in February, 2017, citing the loss of 133 hectares of deforestation from storms and illegal logging in the oyamel fir forests in Southern Mexico.

No matter how battered the wintering monarchs are, they are now on the move northward in the one of the most spectacular sustained migrations that any animal, insect or bird species on the planet makes. The complex, multi-generational migration of the monarchs is one of the great mysteries of nature and we are able to not only observe the migration, but to contribute to restoring their population.

You can follow the northward migration of monarchs in real time and report your sightings as you observe monarchs on their migration. Visit: to see the current map and list your sightings. Check back frequently to track the northward monarch migration, and then, as summer changes to fall, follow the southward migration on monarchs back to Mexico.

For information on how you can help save the monarchs visit Monarch Watch, the national organization that is coordinating efforts nationwide to save the monarch. There is great information on what you can do, how you can install a monarch Waystation on your property, and how to obtain milkweed seeds and plants: BY Rich Dolesh

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