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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Specialized Gardens Offer More Than A Wing And A Prayer To Troubled Monarch Butterflies

 June 10, 2019 at 10:39 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The last two years have not been kind to the monarch butterflies living along the west coast. KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson says, the population of the iconic incept plunged below 30,000 this year. The insects future prospects appear dim. Speaker 2: 00:19 Normal Heights front yard is a certified natural habitat. Speaker 1: 00:23 If it's not food, it's not in the yard. It's got to be food for somebody. Uh, whether it be a butterfly, a certain type of butterfly of be birds. Um, it really needs to be either a host plant or a nectar plants. Speaker 2: 00:36 Ramy Misskey embraces the tranquil activity that surrounds her home. Speaker 1: 00:40 It's just my little, everything's okay spot Speaker 2: 00:44 sprinkled among the colorful plants are different kinds of milkweed. That's important as a Misskey because outback Kay and watched the little critter via duck. She's got an entire greenhouse devoted to raising and releasing monarch butterflies. She separates eggs from tiny caterpillars, separates tiny caterpillars from larger ones. They're just robbing us. Once the caterpillars have finally eaten enough, they look for a place to hang and form their colorful chrysalis. Then Zoom Musky waits for the orange, black and white butterfly to emerge. Speaker 1: 01:16 Yeah. So this guy's got a little more ways to go and and with the cooler darker, whether he might light a little bit longer. Speaker 2: 01:24 Zoom mosquito welcomes a couple hundred monarch butterflies into the world every month. She says caring for the iconic insects consumes or weekends and she's willing to spend enough money to make sure there's plenty of milk Speaker 3: 01:36 lead on hand for the process. Monarchs are probably one of the most, if not the most valuable insects in the world. Bryce Simmons works at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. People spend a lot of money to plant monarch gardens. They pay a lot of money to go see monarchs in Mexico and over wintering or in the eucalyptus grows here and they have very strong values. Semans helped develop a model that predicts the health of the monarch butterflies populations both in the east and western United States. It turns out that the models that we used to describe how a population changes through time are the same as if we're modeling fish or monarch butterflies. Speaker 2: 02:15 Those models show a steady and dramatic decline of monarchs on the West Coast. The population topped 1.2 million in the 1990s and Semon says the number of migrating monarchs is currently on Speaker 3: 02:27 perilous perch. What they use as an is that an extinction threshold or a point at which the population would hit it and most likely it would now be in a vortex and extinction vortex where it won't be able to pull out and they use it as a number 30,000 individuals, 30,000 monarchs. We'll just, this last winter we were below that pesticide storms and now even climate change are posing problems for the colorful butterfly. What was once a friendly habitat is turning more hostile because in really dry hot, uh, years, milkweed doesn't grow so well across the range of where it normally would and they're obligated breeders on Milkweed, they have to have milkweed in order to reproduce. And so to some extent, wherever the milkweed isn't, the monarchs can't be, Speaker 2: 03:13 but someone says it's the migration behavior that's likely at risk of going extinct, not the butterfly itself. Volunteers count the migrating butterflies when they gather it over wintering sites. Typically a grove of eucalyptus trees near the coast, but many historic wintering spots in San Diego County and elsewhere, no longer attract monarchs. The ones here we're pretty sure are not migrating at all. John Merriman runs butterfly farms in Encinitas and he raises monarchs to share their story with local children. He knows that the colorful insects face challenges, especially early in their lifecycle. When other insects like flies, pose a threat and there's bacterial infections, there's viral infections, I think get in a mold or mildew or fungus it that's going to probably kill them. Uh, so there's, there's a lot that things go wrong and that's before, that's before any predators even. But he says monarchs are also good at survival. The milkweed they eat makes them noxious to most birds and they're persistent. Friendly. Social behavior might be why the term social butterfly remains popular. It's a really prolific butterfly. They're serious about reproduction. While the monarchs are resilient, they do require a milkweed for their survival. But fortunately for them, there is plenty of milkweed in southern California. Eric Anderson KPBS news.

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The last two years have not been kind to the monarch butterflies living along the West Coast. The population of the iconic insect may have fallen below a critical level.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments