Archive for the 'Monarchs' Category

Habitat for Monarchs and other Pollinators

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018
Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on milkweed.

This is Passport to Texas

For as long as biologists have been studying the iconic monarch butterfly, they’ve come up with more questions than answers about its biology and basic needs. The biggest question: do land management practices, like controlled burns and reseeding with native plants improve monarch habitat?

We have lots of questions about patch size, too.

That’s Ben Hutchins, the state’s invertebrate biologist. So, what is patch size?

When I say ‘patch size’ what I mean is, how far will a monarch travel to get from one plot of nectar producing plants to another? How big of a prairie do we need to support healthy monarch populations? How many milkweed in it? What density do we need across the landscape to promote healthy breeding populations?

Expansive patches of prairie are best, but hard to come by due to urbanization. Having said that—all is not lost.

Even urban environments have lots of potential for habitat for monarchs moving through; so you have urban corridors. So, there’s no property that’s too big or too small to help out monarchs and other urban pollinators.

That means even planting native nectar producing plants and milkweed in empty lots, on building rooftops, or in containers on your downtown balcony—you are playing a role in supporting monarch and native pollinators.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Questions About Monarch Butterflies

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018
Monarchs

Monarchs-Photo by Monika Maeckle

This is Passport to Texas

Here’s what you need to know about scientific discovery: it starts with a question. And that leads to—not answers —not immediately, anyway. It leads to more questions.

They just keep coming.

Ben Hutchins, the state’s invertebrate biologist, has been asking a lot of questions lately about monarch butterflies.

That’s right. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. And so, many of us that are involved in monarch conservation have been to a number of conferences, meetings, workshops, symposia. And a big emphasis is on all of the questions that we still have about monarch biology. I think the biggest question, particularly, for conservationists for natural resource managers is: what can we do to make the landscape good monarch habitat. How can we be good stewards of the land to make sure monarchs are getting what they need?

See what I mean?

We have lots of questions about how particular land management practices, like using controlled burns, or reseeding with native plants—how those practices can best be used to produce good monarch habitat. We have lots of questions about patch size, too.

And if your next question is: what does Ben Hutchins mean by patch size? You’ll have to listen next time to find out.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

What Monarchs Need

Thursday, February 8th, 2018
Milkweed for monarchs

Milkweed for monarchs

This is Passport to Texas

Larval monarchs have very specific nutritional needs.

Larval monarchs depend on milkweed species. Essentially, that’s the only plant monarch caterpillars consume.

Ben Hutchins, state invertebrate biologist, says availability of milkweed in Texas is vital to their survival.

As monarchs migrate north from their overwriting grounds in Mexico, Texas is one of their first stops. And this is where they begin to reproduce. And so all of the monarchs that then migrate farther north through the US and Canada, those future generations depend on successful reproduction in the spring here in Texas.

Yet, Texas is just one stop along their migration route.

Monarchs also reproduce and depend on milkweed in the Midwestern states in the united states. And, we know that in many of those states—for example, in the corn belt region—that the availability of milkweed plants has declined substantially over the last several decades. And so, there is some pretty good science that suggests that decline in milkweed availability in the Midwest, directly relates to the monarch population declines that we have seen.

We can all play a part in the monarch’s survival when we plant milkweed and other nectar producing plants.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Citizens Monitor Monarchs

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018
Monarch on milkweed.

Monarch on milkweed.

This is Passport to Texas

Why are monarch butterflies declining?

The current thought is that it is actually several different factors that are contributing to the decline that we’re seeing.

Ben Hutchins is TPW’s invertebrate biologist. Deforestation of their winter roosts in Mexico, cold winters, and prolonged drought along their migration path, has had negative effects.

And then, finally, what this project is addressing is this widespread decline in availability of milkweed plants. That’s due to a couple things: predominantly increased use of certain herbicides.

Texas Milkweeds and Monarchs is a citizen science project where folks keep an eye out for the state’s 37 different species of milkweeds –vital to the monarch’s lifecycle – and then then share observations on iNaturalist.org.

We have experts that are going to be looking at these observations and identifying those.

Hutchins says more than a thousand contributors have logged more than seven thousand observations of all 37 milkweed species. Texas Parks and Wildlife also has guide to Texas milkweeds to help you ID the plants.

It is available online, [with] pictures of all of the different species of milkweeds, distribution maps—to let you know if you’re in the right part of the state—and also some of the key characteristics.

Find it on the Nature Trackers page of the Texas Parks and Wildlifewebsite.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Managing for Monarchs

Monday, January 22nd, 2018
Monarchs at their overwintering site in Mexico.

Monarchs at their overwintering site in Mexico.

This is Passport to Texas

Monarch butterflies, which are beautiful, are declining. Yet, they’re not especially good pollinators, or a significant food source for other critters. So, is being pretty reason enough to save them?

I think it’s important not to deemphasize how important this is. If you’re ever out on a Texas river in the fall, and you have hundreds or thousands of monarchs coming through – that’s a fabulous natural phenomenon.

You make a good point Ben Hutchins. Ben is Texas Parks and Wildlife’s invertebrate biologist. He says the insects have a practical value in Mexico where they overwinter.

Overwintering monarchs are a really important source of economic income as tourists come from around the world to see them.

Conserving monarchs also benefits other Texas species.

Monarch conservation, benefits a whole suite of other species. So, for example, if you’re managing a landscape to benefit monarchs, you’re also going to be benefitting many other pollinators. They also benefit a host of larger species. For example, if you’re managing habitat – keeping it open as a prairie or savannah – that’s going to be benefitting upland bird species like quail; so there’s really an economic incentive of for being conscious of monarchs when we’re managing landscapes.

Who knew, right? Tomorrow: a citizen science project to help monarchs.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.