Mating monarchs a positive sign
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Jul 25, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Mating monarchs a positive sign

Stratford Gazette

Jeff Heuchert

The pollinator demonstration garden at the Fryfogel Arboretum is off to a flying start.

On Tuesday evening, arboretum committee member Barb Hacking stumbled upon something she has never seen before in her many years working with butterflies: two monarchs mating, and she captured the rare moment with her camera.

Given that the monarch butterfly population have been on the decline in recent years, Hacking says she's hopeful her discovery was a positive sign of things to come.

"It seems that the garden is doing what it was supposed to do, attract pollinators and encourage them to reproduce," she adds.

The garden was planted in the spring and includes roughly 2,000 native-plant species that provide habitat for pollinators like butterflies, bees, wasps, and birds. Hacking says pesticide use, erratic weather patterns, and the loss of valuable habitat have all contributed to declining populations.

A former teacher, Hacking helped establish the butterfly garden at Avon school. But in recent years it became difficult to find caterpillars to bring into the classroom to teach about the butterfly lifecycle, she notes.

The number of monarch butterflies making it to their winter refuge in Mexico dropped 59 per cent in 2013, falling to the lowest level since comparable record-keeping began 20 years ago.

Illegal logging in the reserve established in the monarch wintering grounds was long thought to be a factor, but such logging has been vastly reduced by increased protection, enforcement and alternative development programs in Mexico. Most experts now blame climate conditions and agricultural practices, especially the use of pesticides that kill off the monarchs’ main food source, milkweed. The loss of milkweed plants in the butterflies' summering areas in the north can make it hard for them to lay eggs, and for the offspring that do hatch to find enough food to grow to maturity.

In addition, unusually hot or dry weather can kill eggs, meaning fewer adult butterflies. For butterflies that reach adulthood, unusual cold, lack of water or tree cover in Mexico can mean they’re less likely to survive the winter.

While urban sprawl has undoubtedly eroded the monarchs' natural environment, Hacking says people can make a difference by simply planting a milkweed plant or other nectar-rich plant that helps the pollinators thrive.

– With files from Toronto Star

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