After spoiled butterfly bash, Oklahoma town tries to aid monarchs

Fri Nov 7, 2014 1:44pm EST
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By Heide Brandes

BLANCHARD Oklahoma (Reuters) - The small town of Blanchard, Oklahoma, threw a big party this fall, but the guests of honor did not show up. Residents suspect foul play somewhere on the guests' international trek to the festivities.

To make sure the same thing does not happen next year, Blanchard residents called on farmers in Oklahoma to plant more milkweed, cut down on pesticides and clear a favorable path for the monarch butterfly - the missing celebrity at its annual Monarch in the Park festival during what was supposed to be the insects' arrival on their arduous annual migration.

"We released three monarchs. ... Woo hoo," said organizer Zereta Sucharski at the time of the Sept. 30 festival.

Millions of the orange-and-black butterflies make the 3,000-mile (4,800 km) journey each year from Canada to spend the winter in central Mexico, but the size of that migration can vary wildly.

While an estimated 1 billion monarchs migrated in 1996, only about 35 million made the trip last year, according to Marcus Kronforst, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago who has studied monarchs.

Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, said the butterflies have suffered from the expansion of farmland, sprawling housing developments and the clear-cutting of natural landscapes along their migration path.

"Destruction of habitat is the main problem with declining monarch population," he said.

Last year’s population of migrating monarchs was an all-time low, Taylor said. The accumulated loss over about five years of breeding grounds roughly equal in size to the state of Texas further hurt the population numbers.   Continued...

A monarch butterfly is seen in an undated handout picture taken in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. REUTERS/Leslie Ann Miller/Handout via Reuters