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Local conservationists look to save Monarch homes
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With the number of monarch butterflies in the U.S. on the decline in recent years, conservationists are asking for assistance in creating local butterfly habitats.
Gail Morris, a conservation specialist with Monarch Watch, said that no effort is too small to have an impact on the future of the monarch population. While it may be common for insect populations to go up and down, she said, it is concerning when the low numbers continue to get lower and there is a possibility that the species may not be able to recover.
“Monarchs need our help right now, their numbers are on the decline and I hear stories from everyone who had gardens that say, ‘You know we used to have a lot of butterflies and now we hardly see anything.' There's luckily something we can do about that.”
When asked the question of why monarchs are so important, Morris said that they are great pollinators and have a knack for reflecting to humans how the Earth's ecosystem is fairing.
“If they're doing well, then we're doing well,” she said.
Morris, who is also the Southwest Monarch Study coordinator, visited Arizona Western College on Oct. 25th to present the community with ways that they can help save monarch butterflies by creating their own habitat or “waystation” in a yard, park or school.
Morris said that creating a monarch waystation can be as simple as adding milkweed plants and nectar sources to an existing garden or creating a new garden with milkweed plants.
She noted that monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants and their caterpillars feed exclusively on the milkweed as well.
While desert milkweed is the recommended milkweed or “host plant” for monarchs in Arizona, she shared that there are others that can be used, such as narrowleaf milkweed, tropical milkweed, pine-needle milkweed, butterflyweed, antelope horns and showy milkweed.
She recommended purchasing milkweed seeds at a local nursery or online becomes sometimes the plants sold already grown can sometimes carry pesticides that are harmful to butterflies. She added that AWC, however, will be holding plant sales that include milkweed grown in their greenhouse.
To qualify as a monarch waystation with the Monarch Watch organization, people must plant at least 10 milkweeds in one area. To find out how to certify a waystation, visit www.monarchwatch.org for more information.
Morris encouraged those creating a waystation or a garden in Yuma to contact her if they have monarch sightings at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-881-5052, so that she can include the information in their Southwest Monarch Study.
She said that the peak migration time for monarchs in the Yuma and Tucson area has already passed as it was from Oct. 4-16, but there are monarchs that stay in Yuma for the winter.
“If you plant it, they will come, sometimes it just takes them a little while to find your yard,” she said.
She said that identifying monarchs from other butterflies can sometimes be tricky. The easiest way to tell the difference between monarch and queen butterflies, Morris said, is that Monarchs have white dots only within the black edges of their wings and a queen butterfly has white dots in the orange area of their wings.
“They both use milkweed as a host plant,” she said. “But the queens are usually here longer and don't mind those hot summer days. Monarchs won't be here when it's really hot.”
If the monarch is a male, it will have a black dot on each wing, best seen when their wings are open.
“Sometimes it's really difficult to tell the difference between the male and female monarchs. It's harder to tell when their wings are up,” she said.
Even the monarch and queen caterpillars look similar, Morris said. The monarch caterpillar has two pairs of filaments, one pair at each end, while the queen caterpillar has three pairs of filaments, one pair at each end and one in the middle; there is a reddish tinge where the filaments meet the body.
Visit www.swmonarchs.org/queen-monarch.php for more information on how to identify a monarch, so as to not give an incorrect sighting report.
To learn more about how to certify a monarch waystation and the migration patterns of monarchs, visit www.monarchwatch.org for more information.
Visit www.monarchsinthedesert.blogspot.com to follow Morris' travels tracking monarchs.
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.