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Can you imagine 20000 butterfly species? That's how many different butterflies exist on Earth.
Butterfly wings have a very delicate construction, with overlapping microscopic scales resulting in these wonderful special colors and patterns.
About 400 butterfly species call Texas home.
You see the adult butterfly + the caterpillar
Many butterflies are migratory, what means they travel long distances.
The Texas State butterfly is the Monarch; these butterflies travel over 3000 miles during migration.
Why do we see less Monarch butterflies?
Something went wrong with the spring monarch migration. Not many of us have caught sight of more than a few of the iconic insects currently on their northward journey through Texas.
Monarch - Danaus plexippus
Migration route Texas Hill Country
There are some key culprits of the population collapse of this most recognizable of our butterflies.
Soggy weather and illegal logging have both indisputably reduced the Monarch butterflies at their Mexican over-wintering grounds.
Not many know that the on-going loss of habitat in the United States, as well as our widespread use of toxic herbicides, pesticides, and use of genetically modified corn, threatens many butterfly species.
Butterflies need milkweed as breeding ground, but humans destroy it. The use of Roundup Ready crops, herbicide-ready crops does not help either.
Monarch - danaus plexippus
Butterfly garden at Bear Springs Blossom Nature Preserve
Monarch Watch estimates current agricultural practices, including the war on Monarch's primary food source, milkweed have eliminated more than 80 million acres of monarch habitat in recent years.
When the butterflies reach their breeding ground around the Great Lakes region, they will be met with sprawling stands of soy and corn crops. Herbicide-tolerant crops that led to an increase in the amount of toxic spraying that has a very negative impact on monarchs.
And some of Bt corn varieties are damaging butterflies.
Researchers published findings that showed that monarch larvae fed milkweed leaves dusted with Bt-corn pollen ate less, developed more slowly, and died more frequently than those fed milkweed untainted by the transgenic pollen.
Recent research shows that monarchs normally are well trained to protect their young ones.
Can you imagine, that monarch mothers know on which plant they attach their eggs?
Monarchs choose medicinal plants will special glycogens that are poisonous to other animals who want to eat the larvae or caterpillar. If an insect or birds eats the baby monarch, it gets sick, so it learns not to eat monarch caterpillars.
But Monarch females know more:
If there is a danger with parasites as the Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, the monarchs choose plants that are deadly for these parasites - without making an appointment with a doctor ...
Last winter's soggy weather had an impact on the already vulnerable population. Monarch butterflies limped into central Mexico at their lowest numbers since researchers began doing population counts in the 1970s.
While previous crashes in 2002 and 2004 occurred when the populations were above average, this year the population was at an all time low and then there was the crash that halved that low number. Another, a back-to-back crash would be particularly devastating.
And while Mexico's butterfly reserves and Midwest breeding grounds may feel far from us in South Texas, there is a lot local residents can do to help.
Texas Monarch routes are essential for the northward migration. It is here where the monarchs first rush of egg laying. So the conditions here in Texas play a big role in the success of future monarch generations going north.
The Monarch as caterpillar and as adult
The Monarch has recently been added to the World Wildlife Fund's Top Ten Most Threatened Species list and the overwintering population this winter is the lowest ever recorded.
Gulf Fritillary - Agraulis vanillae
photo at Bear Springs Blossom Nature Preserve
What can YOU do?
You can cut down on your pesticide use and rush out to plant some milkweed, sunflowers, and other plants. The Butterfly Bush is good for many butterflies, but not the best choice for monarchs.
Swallowtail feeding on butterfly bush
Our butterflies need our help to survive all the threats:
more violent weather
HELP: Every backyard butterfly garden helps.
Gulf Fritillary seen at
Bear Springs Blossom Nature Preserve
Sulphur Southern Dogface
Colias cesonia as butterfly and caterpillar
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