Are Monarch Butterflies Making a Comeback?

Are Monarch Butterflies Making a Comeback?

2013 was a horrific year for the monarch butterfly and their amazing fall migration. Never in my life, have I heard so many people proclaim they had not seen one monarch all season!

Our greatest fears were realized, last winter, when the annual monarch butterfly count from their Mexican wintering grounds was estimated to be the lowest in migration history.

This spring started off cool again, and many feared it would be detrimental to the already-struggling population. Three short months later, things seem to have taken a surprising turn for the better.

Here are 6 reasons to be hopeful for a well-traveled monarch migration in 2014:

Earlier Northern Migration

Last season, a cold spring robbed us of an entire generation of monarchs. This season started similarly, but the temperatures recovered faster in the southern US.

11 Monarch Butterflies Eclose on Ceiling

In Minnesota, we’ve already released over 20 monarch butterflies. Last year, we didn’t even have our first eggs yet. This is also true for other raisers in this region I have spoken to.

More Rain in the Midwest

Drought has been a milkweed killer over the past few seasons. It can also leave caterpillars dehydrated, unable to finish their amazing transformation into beautiful butterflies. Midwest milkweed has plummeted by as much as 80% over the past decade.

Many drought stricken areas throughout the monarchs’ central pathway have received more rain, and there is a better milkweed supply for monarchs to utilize in this region. Two years ago, drought tore apart a promising start to the season. This year, weather could play more of a healing role…

drought comparison map
Less Drought, More Milkweed! | by Drought Monitor
In Minnesota, this has been our rainiest June since 1874…back when Laura Ingalls was just 7 years old! This makes milkweed on the prairie very happy…

More Gardeners Aware of Milkweed and its Benefits

Social media websites have brought gardeners together to share information like never before. We are sharing information on milkweed plants including where to find them, what they attract, how to grow them, and more…

Some of this information is inspiring others to start their own butterfly gardens.

The Monarch Plight is getting More Attention from the General Public

Again, social media sites like facebook and twitter have made the general public more aware of monarch and pollinator issues. Sharing information across these platforms is starting to make a difference.

Check out our amazing community of over 5,ooo monarch enthusiasts on facebook.

An Unexpected Eggs-plosion in Minnesota

3 Baby Monarch Caterpillars Inside Top of Swamp Milkweed

As a gardener whose plant selection heavily favors monarch activity, I realize my personal results may be skewed.  However, if you look at Journey North you’ll see there are many in this region reporting monarch egg discoveries compared to last season.

Compare results through June 20th:

Spring 2013 Monarch Eggs

Spring 2014 Monarch Eggs

Usually, we get an egg-lull after receiving our first batch of eggs. This year we have been getting new eggs every couple of days without exception. This excites me and here’s why it should excite you too:

Oh Canada!

Earlier activity in the northern US means more monarch activity in Canada this season, utilizing all the fresh milkweed across the Great White North. Canada will yield two generations of monarchs this year and should start off a strong fall migration.

Last year the monarch population barely made it to Canada, while the US monarchs struggled through the continuing drought. In fall 2013, the migration generation limped through the US into the mountains of Mexico.

Based on spring results, I’m hopeful for a mightier monarch migration in 2014. What say you?

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23 Comments

  1. This year has been amazing for me too. I still have 20 ready to eclose and 3 5th instars. I have reqred and released over 1000 monarchs this summer in Central Ohio. Last year I didn’t find my first egg until late August, but this year I found over 60 eggs the third week of May. My success rate is around 98% too! I only found a half dozen with OE, which is also a great number. Another amazing thing is that I witnessed females laying multiple eggs on the same plant. I watched one female in particular lay 5 eggs on one plant. It is almost as if they knew they had work to do to make up for the deficit last year.

    This past week we have seen cold temperatures, cold enough that I have had to feed and shelter recently eclosed monarchs. What is amazing to me is that a tagged monarch that I released over a week ago came to visit my garden again today, even after this cold spell. I have seen this same male off and on this entire week. I am not sure why it isn’t migrating, but I would like to think that it just is waiting for his friends to emerge. 😉

    1. Hi Terri, congrats on a successful season. 98% is a fantastic survival rate and 1k butterflies?? Wow! Recently, I had to keep 9 monarchs for about a week. They were so excited when I let them go a couple days ago. They stocked up on nectar and then left yesterday riding those north winds to Mexico.

      If a male/female has already mated, they will not be migrating, but it’s always an honor to have a butterfly choose your garden to live out its final days. Hopefully your male will be migrating though…

  2. From Lexington, KY. I was about to give up on seeing any butterflies this year apart from a few sulphers and cabbage whites. But yesterday I found my first ever monarch caterpillar on my increasing number of milkweed plants. Last year I had about 20 Eastern Black swallowtails releasing the first on July 29 and several Spice Bush Swallowtails. This year has been quiet until now.

    Tom Krill

    1. Hi Tom,

      the central pathway of the US seems to have more butterfly activity this season. Hopefully you will see a few more as they start migrating south…Congrats on your first monarch caterpillar!

  3. I have found 74 eggs in Buffalo, New York since the Fourth of July (all in my garden). The first 6 were released a couple of days ago. Some are still in the chrysalis stage, some are almost there and the rest are still young cats. I have also placed some with families who are fostering the caterpillars and learning about these miraculous creatures for the first time.

    1. That’s wonderful Christine. If the monarchs are making a comeback, you are helping to make a difference!

  4. I hope you’re right about MI. Paul. I haven’t seen any Monarchs, or any butterflies at all(unless you count a Cabbage White) for four years. I have a big patch of Asclepias syriaca in my garden so I couldn’t guess what was wrong. I moved to the tri city area from Au Gres where we had so many around my garden that was right by Lake Huron. Usually windy so they bounced around. I even saw a Monarch chase a bird away. This was new to me-to see the tough side of a butterfly. I’ve tried the tropical Asclepias currasavica but all other milkweed (syriaca, tuberosa) was ignored till currasavica was just sticks. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

    1. Hi Valerie, I’m not sure the monarch boom has extended to the eastern upper midwest yet, but further west the numbers have been good…hopefully you see some soon.

      Territorial monarch males will chase birds. I’ve seen this several times and it always makes me smile.

      In our garden we have may varieties of native and non-native milkweed and most get used at various points in the season. Try planting several patches around the yard…that way they might start laying eggs before they realize the tropical is there. Good luck!

  5. Indications point to a monarch boom in ND, SD, NE, MN, IA, WI, IL and to a lesser extent in MI, IN, OH, Ontario. Number are low in the New England States. Bottom line is that so far the fall migration in the upper Midwest is on track to be as strong as it was in 2011 which was quite good indeed. Reason for the boom? A lower than normal abundance of predators of monarch eggs and young caterpillars, presumably caused by the severe and prolonged cold last winter and early spring.

    1. I wonder which predators the cold weather had the biggest impact on? What stuck out to me this spring was the absence of mourning cloak butterflies. They are usually the first butterfly I see every year and I finally saw my first last week.

  6. I have some well established milkweed plants in my yard along with planting 32 new ones this Spring! When can we expect the Monarchs…have not seen any yet. We are in upstate NY.

    1. Hi Andrea, from the reports on Journey north it sounds like more have taken the central pathway this year. I’m curious to hear in the next couple months if there is a monarch boom out east. If we had “electronic” tagging of monarchs it would be interesting to see how many central monarchs head east, and how many continue north to Canada. I hope you see some soon!

    2. In previous years, our yard was filled with butterflies. This year even our black swallowtails are in low numbers and not even a glimpse of a Monarch (Central NJ). . . so concerned that Monarchs will no longer migrate to the Northeast.

      1. Hi Becky, I’m not sure why the eastern pathway got so many monarchs back in 2012. And this year, the upper midwest is having a monarch boom. Hopefully some of those butterflies head east this summer!

        Also, I wouldn’t worry that the monarchs are no longer heading east…the most traveled pathway varies from year to year.

  7. Excellent points and I do agree. I certainly have been sharing the Monarchs plight and solutions via social media and in person with people. I added 3 swamp milkweed, 1 purple milkweed, 6 tropical milkweed and a butterfly weed to the pollinator garden this year. I have also noticed milkweed being allowed to grow wild in more places. If we all keep doing our part and spreading the word then we will get the population back to normal if not new highs.

    1. Hi Chris, I’m not sure if we will ever get the population back to glory day numbers because of habitat loss. However, I think butterfly gardening and exploring new habitat resources can make a big difference. Thank you for spreading the message to save our monarchs.

  8. I have several caterpillars maybe 15. Hoping I will have a good brood like last yr. However I do raise mine inside. I was releasing Monarchs way into Dec. I am in AZ

  9. Have several different kinds of Milkweed blooming right now,hoping the Milkweed stays nice until after the Monarch’s have lay their eggs.
    Some of my Common Milkweed has already lost some of their leaves,have turned yellow and dropped off .
    Need too order my Tag’s,think I’ll order 100 this year .
    Can’t wait too see my first Monarch for this year ,we usually don’t get them until late July early Aug .
    Hope there are 100’s of Monarch’s this year .

  10. I should have about 45 butterflies with 38 already in chrysalis in my first round. Did find an egg on the 26th though. It was on a flower bud.

  11. I have released 29 Monarchs so far and I have another batch of 20 caterpillars growing. I have spotted some more eggs and cats near my place in eastern South Dakota and will be collecting them soon.

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