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Monarch Man—But Few Monarchs—Coming to the Adirondacks

Chip Taylor. Courtesy of Monarch Watch

It’s been a great year for milkweed in the Adirondacks, a bad year for monarchs. The milkweed on my street is perfect, with tropically big and smooth oval leaves. Usually by this point in the summer the plants are chomped ragged by caterpillars. But there are very few butterflies around to lay eggs on them.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to hearing what Chip Taylor has to say at the Wild Center, in Tupper Lake, next week. Taylor is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and the founder of Monarch Watch, an organization that encourages citizens, schools and communities to track and create habitat for monarch butterflies across North America. He’s the monarch man.

Monarchs and milkweed have declined in parallel with the rapid adoption of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans and, since 2006, the rapid expansion of corn and soy crops to produce ethanol. We don’t grow these crops in the Adirondacks, but we suffer the consequences in loss of our beloved black-and-orange butterflies. (And, I would add, in corroded small engines. Why more people aren’t screaming from the mountaintops about this I don’t understand.) But back to the butterflies.

A combination of multi-year drought in the center of the country, fewer nectaring plants along flyways, and unfortunate migration weather has speeded decline. Taylor expects this winter’s overwintering population in Mexico to be the lowest ever recorded, covering only about 1.5 hectares of forest (compared to 21 hectares in 1996).

As of last week Sue Grimm at the Butterfly House, at the Paul Smith’s College VIC, had counted only eight monarchs for the season. “There is a female next to me as I type this,” she emailed. “I bring her in at night, to save her the stress from our string of cold nights. . . . We have raised one larva to chrysalis stage, and it should emerge in a few days. If I can keep this female beside me alive, there is hope of mating with the new monarch — IF he’s male! Yes — pathetic.”

Taylor will speak at 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 23 at the Wild Center about migration dynamics and current conservation issues facing the monarch butterfly. At 1 p.m. Saturday, August 24, he will introduce a special showing of the film Flight of the Butterflies, followed by an outdoor tagging workshop. The events are free, sponsored by ADKAction.org, but the Wild Center recommends reservations.

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