I have always known about the connection between monarch butterflies and milkweed. I have referred to it during my three earlier posts about the plant but I haven't focused on it. However, today, on line in the New York Times, I read this piece which is very succinct, very clear, very distressing. So I begin today's post with the link to it. Actually, this editorial is short enough for me to put it into the blog itself. Right here:
Editorial | Notebook
Monarchs Fight for Their Lives
Published: October 12, 2013
The more you know about monarch butterflies, the more extraordinary they seem. Their life cycle — the adaptive web of behaviors they have evolved — is almost unbelievably complex. They migrate en masse (this month, as a rule) from all across the Midwest and Northeast to just a few high altitude sites in Mexico, where they winter, sheltering in profusion beneath a canopy of fir trees, from whose trunks they draw the residual heat they need to stay alive. Winter past, they migrate thousands of miles northward, where they lay their eggs on milkweed plants, the only plant a monarch caterpillar can eat.
The complexity of their life cycle is mirrored by the complexity of the threats they face. For the past 15 years, scientists have been watching monarch numbers plummet, as much as 81 percent between 1999 and 2010. They reached nearly catastrophic lows in the winter of 2009-2010 and have barely recovered since.
One recent study suggests that the long-term survival of the species may be in doubt. A few weeks ago, one of the scientists devoted to studying monarchs, Ernest Williams at Hamilton College, summarized for me the threats that have been reported in recent studies.
Nearly every link in the monarchs’ chain of being, he said, is at risk. Illegal logging in Mexico has reduced their winter habitat — an already vanishingly small area, which is itself being altered by the warming climate. Ecotourists who come to witness the congregation of so many butterflies disturb the creatures they have come to see. But perhaps most damaging is the demise of milkweed.
Monarchs have the misfortune to rely exclusively on a plant that farmers all across the Midwest and Northeast consider a weed. There is a direct parallel between the demise of milkweeds — killed by the herbicide glyphosate, which is sprayed by the millions of gallons on fields where genetically modified crops are growing — and the steady drop in monarch numbers.To anyone who has grown up in the Midwest, the result seems very strange. After decades of trying to eradicate milkweed, gardeners are being encouraged to plant it in their gardens, and townships and counties are being asked to let it thrive in the roadside ditches. What looks like agricultural success, purging bean and corn fields of milkweed (among other weeds), turns out to be butterfly disaster. This is the great puzzle of species conservation — it has to be effective at nearly every stage of a species’ life cycle. And this, too, is the dilemma of human behavior. We live in a world of unintended consequences of our own making, which can never be easily undone.[Italics are mine.]
I have not been following the milkweeds this summer and fall because of the monarchs. It has been purely because of the book George Ella Lyon and I are still working on. It has turned out, however, to be a great big discovery adventure. And what a bonus if my curiousity and art also help create awareness for how each plant, each creature, and each of us is part of a whole world.
My plan today had been to share some of the photos from yesterday's peaceful two hours on nearby Grayson Lake in our Jon boat, with its flat bottom and a fairly quiet trolling motor. Even though it was a Saturday late afternoon and good weather, we were practically by ourselves the whole time. The overcast sky made for better light for most of my photos. My husband ran the ship -- slowing down from our 3 m.p.h. speed at every request. Thanks! Even so, most photos were taken from a moving boat. (I didn't say speeding. Just moving!) The lake is a Corps of Engineers build; it highlights the sandstone cliffs that are everywhere around this region.
|first big rock, a corner cliff, so to speak|
|A later cliffside, looking to me like an enormous creature emerging from the steep bank....|
|Last time, an anhinga was perched on this high tree, and I looked for it again.|
|Yellow jackets are no longer at home. This is called "giving the vacant look."|
|Are these some kind of natural highrise apartments?|
|probably my favorite photo from yesterday|
There are way too many photos for one post, so I will continue this trip next Sunday. The next wave, so to speak. I leave you with two last photos and two thoughts:
|There is always something around the bend.|
|Weeds are wonderful.|