8 Likely Reasons You’re not seeing Monarch Caterpillars or Butterflies in your Butterfly Garden
From late June into early August, I am often contacted by anxious blog readers and newsletter subscribers wondering why their milkweed and nectar flowers are being passed over and why they’re not seeing any monarch butterflies, caterpillars, or eggs…what is going on?! ?
1. Monarch Population is down
A noticeable increase in early season monarchs is not going to happen until we have consecutive seasons with positive population growth in the US and Canada, without any catastrophic events to halt that momentum in Mexico. (i.e. winter storms, illegal logging)
2. Pesticide use is up
Two major concerns of the past few seasons are disease carrying mosquitoes and gypsy moth caterpillars. Monarchs and other wildlife are considered by many to be acceptable collateral damage in these wars. There are many home gardeners that still use harmful pesticides as a first resort.
3. Biological Pest Control
While this sounds like a ‘safe’ pest control option, do thousands of ladybugs, mantids, and parasitic wasps only attack or parasitize our intended victims? Make no mistake, they will go after monarch butterflies, caterpillars and more to satisfy their hunger…did I mention there were thousands?
4. Native Only or Non-attracting Plants
While natives are the cornerstone of a successful garden, a native-only garden will not attract as many monarchs (a migratory species) as a garden with a healthy mix of favored native plants and favorite annuals.
Verify plant choices by using google images
5. Raising Monarchs?
We use a two-pronged approach which has allowed us to attract and support a bounty of butterflies season after season. While we continually improve the garden with a variety of milkweed and nectar plants, we also raise monarchs to release back to nature. Many of the monarch females return to the garden to start the next generation in their childhood garden. ?
Less than 5% of monarchs survive until butterhood when left unprotected outdoors. Our consistent survival rate indoors is 95%+. We raise between 50-100 each season. It doesn’t sound like much, but imagine how long it would take for that that many to naturally survive in our garden?! 100 is 5% of 2000!
If you’d like to help raise monarch butterflies and give the monarch migration a boost, please join us for the annual Raise the Migration event that starts each August.
6. Weather ?
Are you experiencing extreme heat or drought in your region? These are not conditions that favor monarch butterfly activity. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do in this instance except be vigilant about watering and wait for Mother Nature to rain down on you…
In the southern US, it’s normal to have fewer monarchs during hot, dry summers. This is the time the monarch population is concentrated in more temperate northern regions. But as northern temps cool and the fall migration begins, southern butterfly gardens will host masses of monarchs on their way to Mexico…
7. Losing the Race?
I guarantee that some of you are attracting more monarch activity than you think. In our northern region, females often drop by between 9am-11am (before it gets too hot) to quickly drop off their kids and grab a few sips of nectar nourishment. If you’re not at home during this time, you might be missing the majority of your monarch females.
If there’s a healthy ecosystem in the garden and you’re not checking regularly for eggs/caterpillars, it’s possible that a growing list of potential predators is getting to them first.
8. Distribution Shift
From season to season, weather patterns and other environmental factors will influence where more monarchs end up during the summer months. In 2017, monarch enthusiasts in Ontario, Canada reported more monarchs than they’d seen in years…how does this affect the monarch population in the northeastern United States? ?