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Not seeing any monarchs this spring? Researchers want you to let them know.

Researchers report the second-lowest number of monarchs wintering in Mexico ever recorded this season.
Mose Buchele
KUT News
Researchers report the second-lowest number of monarchs wintering in Mexico ever recorded this season.

Monarch butterflies will likely start passing through Texas on their annual migration in the next week or so. But their numbers will be significantly lower than in most other years. Researchers and conservationists say that makes helping them this spring all the more important.

Nowhere is that help needed more than in Texas, the first state the butterflies pass through on their journey north.

There are so many things contributing to the monarchs shrinking population. Years of massive summer droughts, linked to climate change, have depleted nectar and milkweed sources they rely on. Habitat loss in the Mexican forests where they spend the winter and in the U.S. and Canada where they lay eggs in the summer has also taken a toll. And pesticides used to kill other bugs are killing monarchs.

The result is that researchers recorded the second lowest number of monarchs ever in their Mexican wintering grounds this year. They also observed that the butterflies appeared to be staying in different parts of their wintering region than they typically do.

Kristen Baum, the director of Monarch Watch, said it's unclear exactly why that is, though weather conditions in the mountainous region where they congregate could have played a role.

"The colonies were at higher altitudes, they didn’t condense or consolidate as early this year," she said. "So it’s been difficult to know what’s going on."

Still, the butterflies' numbers could rise again under the right conditions.

"Those returning monarchs and what happens with that first generation is going to be really important this year," Baum said.

To help them out, experts recommend planting milkweed, preferably native, and flowers for nectar.

Baum also encourages people to report their monarch sightings online at Journey Northto give researchers and conservationists a better picture of this year's migration.

Monarch Watch has also developed an app where people can record daily updates on whether they’ve seen a monarch.

"No sighting is very helpful, as well, so we can better track the population," Baum said.

Beyond helping to track the monarch migration, reporting sightings may also help establish where the butterflies stay year-round.

"We are seeing more and more monarchs staying along the Gulf Coast region," Baum said. "It would be good to know what percent of the overall population it is, but that is challenging."
Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Mose Buchele