The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 28, 2013

Fewer monarch, caterpillar sightings this summer

Drought, pesticides, loss of habitat affected migrating butterflies

MANKATO — A couple of monarchs were spotted flitting around Benson Park in North Mankato. One showed up near an Arlington business, reported a worker who was on break when he saw the orange-and-black winged beauty. A Facebook posting from a Mankato man said he found a dead butterfly on his semi's grill.

Traffic is just one of many challenges monarchs face while they follow their migratory routes between Mexico and Canada.

Drought and excessive heat last summer and May's unusually cold temperatures caused back-to-back damage to monarch populations. Low numbers were reported across the insects' breeding range, according to Journey North News, a website favorite for those who track the little travelers.

Minnesotans who enjoy watching butterflies have noticed a definite decline in monarch numbers this year.

Harriet Plotz of North Mankato, president of the Twilight Garden Club, said members who tend the flower beds at Hubbard House have not seen many butterflies visiting the blooms.

"There's been lots of mosquitoes," Plotz said.

"Monarchs are one of the most amazing animals on the planet. I've seen exactly two this summer," said Scott Moeller, director and naturalist for Linneaus Arboretum, where he keeps an eye out for winged visitors to the coneflower prairie at Gustavus Adolphus College.

No monarchs showed up during a two-hour public tour of the prairie last week. The number of butterfly sightings in general are down this year at the arboretum, which offers ideal summer habitat for painted ladies, red admirals, mourning cloaks and their caterpillars.

Butterflies that migrate encounter another set of problems when they are in Mexico. Loss of habitat has been a key factor in the decline of monarchs, which need the pine-oak forests of Mexico for continuation of the species.

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