Hope for butterflies? | News, Sports, Jobs

Allison Lamb, a senior at Paul Smith’s College at the Paul Smith VIC Butterfly House, prepares to release a Buckeye butterfly into the house on Thursday. (Company photo — Lauren Yates)

PAUL SMITHS — The choral flapping of migratory monarch butterfly wings abounded at the Paul Smith Visitor Interpretive Center Thursday, music to the ears after last week’s announcement that the butterflies are now classified as a species in Danger of extinction.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, added migratory monarch butterflies to its list of endangered species last week. Martha Van der Voort, program coordinator at the VIC, said while the butterfly decline is severe, there is a glimmer of hope in the new endangered classification. Van der Voort said this could help spread awareness that migratory monarchs are in danger and could encourage people to help increase monarch populations.

The Butterfly House in the VIC, where around 200 migratory monarchs are protected and tagged each year before they migrate south, is just one example of local efforts to increase monarch populations, and the butterfly house volunteer butterflies, Cindy Watson, said people are already stopping to ask how they too can help.

serious threats

A migratory female monarch butterfly feeds on nectar at Paul Smith’s College VIC Butterfly House on Thursday. (Company photo — Lauren Yates)

Migratory monarchs are a specific species of monarchs that migrate from central Mexico to northern North America before returning to Mexico—a 6,000-mile round-trip adventure that requires four generations of butterflies to complete. But in recent years, the butterflies have faced threats from deforestation and the use of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides in what Van der Voort calls “big agriculture”

Mass farms that clear large tracts of land for monocultures and use pesticides to maintain their crops, especially farms in the Midwest where there is a large flyway for monarchs, have systematically threatened the monarch population by eliminating milkweed, the only plant that migratory monarchs use to lay their eggs.

Climate change has also increased the threat to monarch butterflies, according to the IUCN. Droughts can limit milkweed growth and encourage wildfires, and severe heat can kill monarchs or trigger migration patterns before milkweed is available to them. The eastern population of migratory monarch butterflies is down 84% between 1996 and 2014, according to the IUCN, and the western population, which is even more threatened, is down 99.9% from the 1980s to 2021 .

“There remains concern about whether enough butterflies survive to maintain populations and avoid extinction.” the IUCN wrote in a press release last week.

A bee feasts on wild bergamot, a native plant that is beneficial to both monarch butterflies and native bee populations, outside the Paul Smith Visitor Interpretive Center on Thursday. (Company photo — Lauren Yates)

Pollinators such as migratory monarchs and native bee populations are essential to life on this planet: they pollinate most crops grown for consumption. Without pollination, those crops would never produce food. More than 150 food crops in the US depend on pollinators, according to the US Department of Agriculture, including nearly all fruit and grain crops.

The U.S. has not classified migratory monarch butterflies as endangered, and Van der Voort believes this is largely a political decision: The classification would require new federal regulations to protect them, but he said the international classification is a step in the right direction.

“What can we do?”

Watson said people who recently stopped by the VIC Butterfly House and learned about the threats facing monarch populations have been asking her: “What can we do?” His answer: Plant milkweed, go pesticide-free, and start a native flower garden.

Native plants such as goldenrod, wild bergamot, mountain mint, and wood asters, as well as the host plant monarch milkweed, are crucial food sources for migratory monarch butterflies, which need a lot of sustenance before feeding. take off for Mexico in the fall. Van der Voort said that goldenrod is especially “critical” source of nectar that butterflies need to fly south.

Even if a small plot of the plants is all a person has space for in their garden or outside their apartment, Van der Voort said the butterflies will surely find it.

“Anyone who is planting any amount of native vegetation that butterflies can nectar, just eat, or harbor… is helping,” she said. “No doubt about that”.

Watson, who was a butterfly house coordinator for two years before becoming a volunteer, said some people she gave this advice to in previous years have come back to the house to tell her about their new milkweed or native plant garden. She feels that she is making a difference.

“We can’t change the world, can we? But we can change our part only with the information that we give to people.” she said.

The VIC is a partner in the ADK Pollinator Project, which seeks to promote the defense of pollinator species, and the center hosts a native plant sale each spring where locals can pick essential native flowers that are guaranteed pesticide-free. Van der Voort said this year was the VIC’s fifth annual sale and that he has seen a steady increase in sales over the years. She believes that more and more people are learning about the value of native plants and hopes that more local nurseries will start selling native species. The ADK Pollinator Project is also taking community action to boost native plants and milkweed presence: Van der Voort said the project has planted plenty of pollinator plants around Flower Lake in Saranac Lake.

People who want more information about the ADK Pollinator Project and how to protect pollinators can visit https://tinyurl.com/2x6m3pxy.

butterfly house

The VIC Butterfly House, established in 1992, was the first native butterfly house established in the U.S. Allison Lamb, a senior at Paul Smith’s College, who is this summer’s Butterfly House coordinator, he said he wanted to take over because he supports the house’s mission of protecting native butterflies. butterfly species.

On Thursday, the VIC Butterfly House was filled with migratory monarchs in all life stages: caterpillars small and large eating milkweed leaves and cocoons, chrysalises hanging from the top of a sheltered tank, and adult butterflies fluttering around. the house and feasting on the nectar. . The house protects the butterflies to ensure they can go through all of these stages without facing threats, and the house is filled with all the native flowers the butterflies need to prepare for migration.

Van der Voort said that one of the monarchs they tagged in the VIC in 2019 was later reported in Mexico. It was an exciting time for everyone who worked at the Butterfly House: material proof that their efforts were paying off.

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