P.E.I. butterfly gardens sit empty as monarch population plummets
Challenging fall and spring migrations and shortage of milkweed blamed for decline
Watershed groups and butterfly enthusiasts on P.E.I. are worried about the monarch butterfly, which is late to arrive on the Island in 2020.
The population has taken a big hit during the fall and spring migrations — down by as much as 50 per cent, according to some reports.
That is discouraging news for people on the Island working to create habitat for the monarchs, including the watershed group in Stratford, P.E.I., that planted a monarch garden last spring.
"This time last year, we had caterpillars present already, which means that the monarch butterflies had come in late June," said Maddy Crowell, co-ordinator with the Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group.
"And now of course, here we are, and we haven't seen any yet."
Crowell has been following groups online that track the monarch butterfly, and the news is not good.
"There has been as much as a 50-per-cent decrease in the eastern monarch population," Crowell said.
"We hope that they do come here, but those low numbers are the reason we probably haven't seen them."
Crowell said climate change is a big factor in the population decline.
"When they have their spring migration, warm temperatures in southern U.S. can mean that they end up being pushed farther north too soon," she said.
"Warm and dry fall migration temperatures throughout Canada and the U.S. can also have an impact on slowing that migration."
Crowell said the habitat of the monarch butterfly is also disappearing, with fewer milkweed plants available for the monarchs to lay their eggs upon.
She said the monarch garden in Stratford is thriving in its second season, making the lack of monarchs even more disappointing.
"All the plants have come back really well, the garden has seeded in with other wildflowers, which provide the monarchs nectar sources," Crowell said.
"So it's here and it's ready and it's doing well. We just haven't seen the butterflies yet, so that's disappointing."
Crowell said that even if the monarchs do arrive in the garden, there will be fewer generations than last summer.
"Last year we saw three generations, so that's three full life cycles of monarchs in the garden, and then that last generation makes the migration south," Crowell said.
"If they were to come soon, we might see a couple generations, with the second one making the migration. But it's hard to tell, not knowing when — or if — they'll get here."
The lack of monarchs is also disappointing for Denise Motard, who lives in Stratford too.
She has turned her backyard into a butterfly sanctuary, growing swamp milkweed for 14 years in order to attract monarchs.
She had her first monarch visitors in 2018, and then in 2019, more than 18 butterflies, including some that she raised by hand from the caterpillar stage.
"I felt incredibly lucky, I took advantage of this and took many photos, I raised them, I created a website on the monarch butterfly," Motard said.
"I know it's disappointing for many people because once we see them, we expect them to come back."
They are also searching for signs of the monarchs in the swamp milkweed gardens next to the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association in Emerald, P.E.I.
"It's very disappointing and it's very frustrating," said Tracy Brown, executive director of BBEMA.
"For years, we've done so much work to try and bring up their populations and increase their numbers. The problem with monarchs, unfortunately, is they're across three different countries: Canada, the United States and Mexico."
For the last seven years, BBEMA has been tagging and releasing, and tracking fall migrating monarchs.
It also works with community residents to establish monarch way stations, by providing swamp milkweed in their home gardens.
Brown said she hopes Islanders will continue to plant more swamp milkweed, even if this year has been disappointing.
"Just keep trying," Brown said.
"Even though the numbers are not on our side right now, that doesn't mean that we can't get the numbers up."