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Associated Press , Published July 10 2013

Have you seen fewer monarch butterflies? You're not alone

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — Minnesota's state butterfly has become a rare sight these days.

Scientists say the population of monarch butterflies has crashed because of extreme heat and drought in southern states in the past year. The butterflies migrate north from Mexico as the weather warms during the summer, requiring a temperature of 55 degrees to fly.

Researchers saw early signs of a problem this winter. Monarchs usually spend that season in Mexico's sanctuaries on 17 acres of forest, but this winter, they were found only 3 acres. The winter population was estimated at 60 million, down from 350 million the year before.

Elizabeth Howard, who directs the monarch research group Journey North, told Minnesota Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/172mF0Q) that milkweed plants weren't far enough along in Texas because of a cold spring, so the butterflies couldn't lay eggs. The milkweed is the only plant in which monarchs will lay eggs.

Howard said a generation of monarchs may have been lost.

Twice a year, monarchs brave weather, predators and disease as they travel more than 3,000 miles from the mountains of Mexico as far north as Canada — looking out for milkweed the whole way. In Minnesota, their stay is short. A new generation is born, and by mid-August the migration to Mexico begins.

Dave Kust, an avid butterfly observer and teacher in Brooklyn Park, is one of nearly a million volunteers across North America who chart monarch migrations.

“This is the longest I've had to wait to see a monarch in years,” Kust said as he searched the milkweed leaves in his backyard for any sign of the familiar black-and-orange wings.

Kust takes an “act locally” approach to preserving the monarch population, suggesting homeowners can create monarch rest stops.

“Milkweed and nectaring plants in their backyards and front yards, and if we can keep insecticides out of ditches and mowing to a minimum, and whether you have a waterfall or birdbath or sprinkler in your yard, they do need water,” Kust said.

The health of the milkweed plant population is key to monarch survival during their monthlong life span. Kust sees himself as a Johnny Appleseed-like character, spreading milkweed pods around his home and in neighbors’ yards.

“Anybody who likes gardening, it's pretty easy to encourage that,” he said. “It's not a hard sell.”

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org


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