Thursday, April 20, 2017

Give mowing a rest for returning butterflies

Emerging milkweed is needed to feed hungry monarch larvae

Columbia, Mo. (April 20, 2017) – Tattered yet resilient monarch butterflies have returned to the Midwest early this spring, laying eggs as they migrate north from their overwintering grounds in Mexico. While the distinctive black and orange creatures are a welcome sight here in Missouri, the butterfly’s early appearance could mean that emerging milkweed plants won’t be sufficient to feed hungry larvae.

Monarch eggs on milkweed“In the past 10 days, we’ve received reports of early monarch remigrants from across the state,” said Jason Jenkins, coordinator for Missourians for Monarchs, the state’s monarch and pollinator conservation collaborative. “The egg-loading that’s being reported is nearly unprecedented for our state. To support the caterpillars, we’re going to need every stem of milkweed out there, so we’re encouraging landowners to hold off on any springtime mowing to help this first generation of monarchs thrive.”

Monarch populations have consistently been decreasing over the past 20 years due to habitat loss, changes in agricultural practices and untimely mowing. Milkweed is critical for monarchs because adult monarchs solely lay their eggs on these plants, and caterpillars only eat milkweed before morphing into a chrysalis. Monarchs returning to the states from their overwintering vacation in Mexico have been mating the entire flight up, and are ready to lay eggs on milkweed.

Journey North, a wildlife migration organization based in citizen science, has been reporting sightings of eggs, caterpillars, monarchs and milkweed since some of the adults participated in a mass departure from Mexico on March 23. On March 30, Elizabeth Howard, founder of Journey North, said that the next six weeks would be the most critical for populations.

“It's a critical time as the monarchs race northward to produce the next generation. Now in reproductive condition, the biological clock is ticking. Most of these monarchs will reach the end of their lives by the end of April,” Howard said in a blog post.

The sightings continue, and have since spread to states including Missouri. Citizen scientists are excitedly reporting sightings, some claiming to barely remember seeing monarchs this early in the springtime. This early migration, partially due to storms and gusts of wind, has some new challenges for the population.

“Unfortunately, there are likely to be negative consequences in terms of reproductive success for those monarchs that have reached mid-Kansas and further north. Milkweed is scarce with only a few plants being found in gardens and burned over areas. Egg dumping [laying numerous eggs on a single plant] is likely and late frosts are still a possibility. Larval development will be slowed due to lower temperatures - relative to that which would have occurred had the eggs been laid further south with warmer temperatures,” said Dr. Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch, in a Journey North blog post.

This is where Missourians can step in to do their part.

“Older roads have some of the best milkweed numbers and native flower diversity left in the state,” said Mervin Wallace, native plant expert and owner of Missouri Wildflowers Nursery. “It would be great if landowners waited until after mid-November to mow them to the fence.”

Jenkins echoed Wallace’s sentiment.

“Spring is a time of renewal, and while many landowners may feel the urge to tidy up by mowing roadsides and other odd areas around their homes and yards, these places are important as habitat for monarch caterpillars when there is milkweed present,” he said. “So we’re encouraging folks not to mow and let the milkweed grow.”

Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and academic programs working together to protect the monarch migration, offers a handout outlining best mowing practices for monarchs. This may be downloaded at

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Missourians for Monarchs joins MJV

ST. PAUL, MINN. — On Thursday, Nov. 17, the steering committee of the Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) officially accepted Missourians for Monarchs as a partner in its monarch butterfly conservation efforts.
Monarch Joint Venture
The Monarch Joint Venture began in December 2008.

Based at the University of Minnesota and initiated in December 2008, the MJV brings together more than 50 partners from across the United States — including federal and state agencies, non-governmental agencies and academic programs — with the goal of protecting monarch populations and their migratory phenomena by implementing science-based habitat conservation and restoration measures in collaboration with multiple stakeholders.

By formally joining this effort, Missourians for Monarchs more closely ties its statewide pollinator conservation plan into nationwide ones, helping the state reach its goal of establishing 19,000 acres of pollinator habitat per year for the next 20 years in the Show-Me State.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

4-H Money for Monarchs

The Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri 4-H and Grow Native! retailers are partnering to provide mini grants to participants of the 4-H Monarch Habitat Project. This cooperative effort provides $50 vouchers to 4-H groups willing to plant at least 100 square feet of monarch habitat. The grants are being funded by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. The $50 vouchers are good at Grow Native! plant retailers to cover up to half the cost of the plants for monarch habitat plantings in highly visible locations such at city parks, county courthouses
and school grounds. Get details, voucher applications and educational resources at

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Monarch group hires coordinator

Jason Jenkins

New position provides dedicated leadership to Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever recently named Jason Jenkins as the organization’s new monarch & pollinator coordinator in the state of Missouri. Collaborating with a statewide coalition of public and private interests, Jenkins will work to increase and sustain habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators through citizen involvement and seek ways for partners, communities and agencies to coordinate similar efforts.

“We’re excited to join together with more than 30 partners in the Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative to make this position a reality and develop new opportunities for increasing overall pollinator habitat in the state,” said Elsa Gallagher, Pheasant Forever and Quail Forever’s Missouri statewide quail coordinator. “This position is the first of its kind in the nation created to directly address the issue of pollinator conservation. Jason’s extensive communications experience and diverse skillset, combined with his enthusiasm for conservation and love of the outdoors, make him the ideal person to lead and implement our statewide monarch and pollinator conservation plan.”

During the past two decades, monarch butterfly populations have declined by an estimated 90 percent due to factors including habitat loss and a lack of milkweed plants, the sole host plant used by the monarch during its egg and larval stages. Missourians for Monarchs formed in 2015 as a statewide initiative to address monarch and pollinator conservation in the state. In August 2016, Collaborative partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding committed to creating and maintaining 19,000 acres of pollinator habitat annually for the next 20 years.

The Collaborative includes conservation and agricultural organizations, state and federal agencies as well as utilities, agribusinesses and cooperatives. Funding partners for the Coordinator include the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Missouri Department of Conservation, MFA Incorporated, Monsanto and Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.

"For conservationists, few issues are of as great a concern as that of declining pollinator populations,” said Jason Jenkins, monarch and pollinator coordinator for the Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative. “These insects serve a vital role in our food production systems and sustain our native plant communities. The consequences of losing these species are disastrous. I’m looking forward to becoming an ambassador and advocate for the monarch while we increase and sustain habitat for all pollinators in Missouri."

An award-winning writer, photographer and videographer, Jenkins brings more than 15 years of communications experience to this new position. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Missouri, focusing on fisheries and wildlife management. He previously worked for both University of Missouri Extension and the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, where he served as managing editor for Rural Missouri magazine. Jenkins is an avid hunter, angler and outdoorsman who relishes sharing his passion for the natural world with his wife, Allison, and three children, Aiden, Carly and Ashlyn. For more information about Missourians for Monarchs, contact Jason Jenkins at 573-301-4187 or

Monday, February 8, 2016

February Newsletter

Please note that because what follows is a jpg of the newsletter, the links within will not function.  Please contact for an e-copy of the newsletter with functional links. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Great Migration—Kingdom of the Monarchs

Guest Blog by Joyce Oberle

That the Monarch Butterfly’s journey to Mexico is the greatest of all insect migrations is an accepted and obvious truism.   Every year millions of Monarchs from Canada and the United States begin the long and arduous journey to the mountains of Central Mexico where they will hibernate, roosting on one specific tree, the oyamel fir tree. 

It is a sad commentary that the Monarch population has declined by ninety per cent in the last two decades.  Loss of habitat in the United States and logging of the oyamel tree in Mexico have been the harbingers of the Monarch’s plight.   Knowing this, I began studying in earnest about six years ago wanting to learn as much as I could about this beautiful insect.   In time, I began sharing what I had learned with others who also shared my interests. 
It was this past summer, however, as I again was raising the little caterpillars that visited my milkweed plants, that I decided it was time for me to journey to Mexico and experience firsthand the Monarch’s dauntless travels.

I was delighted when my friend Lil Collins agreed to accompany me.  Travel arrangements solidified, we were on our way to Mexico on the ninth of January.  Mexico City was our first stop, meeting our traveling companions and our guides.  Early the next morning, fourteen eager travelers and three guides boarded a bus and began the four hour trip to the quaint, little town of Angangueo.   After checking into our hotel and enjoying a delicious lunch of the local cuisine, we were ushered onto the bed of two trucks.   Ten miles up the mountain, we switched from the trucks to horses.  It was one mile traveling on horseback and then one final mile on foot.  At long last, we finally arrived at the butterfly sanctuary, El Rosario Sanctuary, to be more explicit.  
All photos used in this Blog are courtesy of the photographer, Wendy Caldwell of Monarch Joint Venture
One does not immediately grasp the essence of what is before them.   Looking out at the vast expanse of the oyamel trees and then finally realizing that what has inundated branches and trunk alike is the immense array of millions of butterflies.  Although I have seen pictures of the various sanctuaries, to view them in reality is almost akin to a spiritual experience.  It was midafternoon, and the heat of the sun began caressing the trees, providing needed warmth so that many of the butterflies began to take flight around the sanctuary giving us the opportunity for many great pictures.  
Because the local inhabitants are so protective of the butterflies the area is cordoned off, and one can get no closer to the trees then perhaps forty to fifty feet.  Guards are also positioned at the sanctuaries. Both men and women take turns standing guard.  As the afternoon sun began to leave the sanctuary, we finished pictures and videos and began our long trip back to our hotel. 

Early the next morning, we headed to the second sanctuary.  The weather was against us, and it was quite cold.  Arriving at the sanctuary, again by horseback and by foot, it was obvious that the butterflies were too cold to take flight.  For them to be able to fly, the temperature must be at least sixty degrees, and it was not even close to that.  After a few hours of waiting for sunshine and warmth that didn’t arrive, we began our trip back to the base camp. Although we were still able to see many Monarchs roosting in the trees, it would have been less disappointing if we could have watched them flying about the sanctuary.  Oh well, it was still an awesome sight.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the kindness and gracious demeanor of the local people.  Certainly the many food dishes that we got to sample and eat were first rate.  Although the hotel in Angangueo had no heat, we did have a small space heater that the hotel provided.  The week passed all too quickly, and soon we were in the airport in Mexico City ready to begin our trip back to the United States.

Yet I couldn’t help but make the comparison between the Monarchs and us.  In a few hours, we would be back at Lambert’s in St. Louis, an easy trip at best.    Nevertheless, these fragile creatures fly thousands of miles over at least two months’ time, often in unpredictable weather.  It is still a mystery as to how they are able to find the oyamel trees never having been there before.   Perhaps we may never know.

As I finish my story, I am reminded of a quote by the great Andy Warhol.  He states, “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  And so it is with the Monarchs.  Time has changed things significantly for them and not in a good way.  But now at long last, many caring and concerned people from federal to local levels have become aware of the butterflies challenges and are wanting to assist them.  Already, we are seeing positive results.  Vast numbers of individuals in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and many other countries are willing to  do  their part so that future generations, our children and grandchildren, will see the Monarchs, not from books, but outside on  a warm summer day flying around looking for milkweed.

Joyce Oberle is a Missouri Master Naturalist with the Miramiguoa Chapter and a member of the Franklin County Master Gardeners.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Consider Native Bees When Gardening for Monarchs

Guest blog and photos by Tom Schroeder 

We all want to improve our garden habitats to increase the number of Monarch Butterflies.  We can increase the number of Native Bees while we are at it by just adding a few gardening practices.

Native Bees are small harmless creatures ranging in size from a quarter inch Miner Bee to an inch and a half Bumblebee.  They will ignore your presence in the garden and go about their business of gathering pollen and nectar for their nests.  They add beauty, interest, and pollinating services to the garden.

carpenter bees
The population of many Native Bees species have declined because of loss and degradation of habitat and pesticide overuse.  These are some of the same reasons for the decline of the Monarch Butterfly.  We can start to turn that around by improving their habitat in our yards.

Both Monarchs and Native Bees required continuous blooming flowers from April to November.  They both prefer to feed on three foot by three foot patches of the same flowers rather than scattered individual flowers. Where Bees and Monarchs differ is in the type of flowers they utilize.  Many Native Bees have short tongues and need open flower forms.  Native Bees also seek pollen for nesting and not just nectar for fuel.

Excellent Native Bee Plants on the Backyard Habitat for Monarchs plant list are: Culver’s Root for late spring; Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Wild Bergamot, and Rosinweed for the summer; Smooth and Sky Blue Aster and Rigid Goldenrod for the fall.  For Native Bees you might also try native species of early spring blooming Serviceberry and Spiderwort and summer blooming Helenium, Penstemon, Agastache, and Verbena.  Unfortunately, Milkweed does not make its pollen available to a bee and requires a long tongue to reach its nectar so it is not a very useful flower to a small bee.

It is well known that Monarch’s need milkweed plants to raise their young.  Native Bees need bare dirt.  Seventy percent of Native Bee species nest in the ground.  The other 30 percent use plant stems or beetle tunnels in wood.  In your plantings for the Monarchs, leave some bare dirt patches for the little bees to use for nesting.  Also leave a few one foot sections of some of the previous year’s plant stems upright in the garden for bee nesting.  Milkweed stems could make an excellent nesting spot for a little bee.
green sweat bees

Limit pesticide and herbicide use including not purchasing seedlings treated with neonicotinoids.  Testing has shown pollen collected by honey bees can contain up to 6 different pesticides.  Even in low concentrations, pesticides affect bee behavior in negative ways.

Monarchs and Native Bees have coexisted in habitats for thousands of years.  By improving your garden habitat for both, you will be continuing that long association. 

Tom Schroeder retired in 2015 and finally got to complete his Master Naturalist certification.  He is a long time volunteer with Kansas City Wildlands specializing in prairie plant seed collection.  He is an avid photographer and gardener with a passion for native bees.