Did you know that the population of monarch butterflies decreased from nearly one billion (yes, that’s “billion” with a “b”) in 1996, to about 35 million in 2013. That means that in a span of just 17 years, the monarchs’ population has experienced an overall yearly drop of 965,000,000 butterflies.
What’s going on? Scientists who study monarchs (our State Butterfly of Texas) attribute the worrisome decline in numbers to several factors:
- illegal logging of Oyamel forests in Mexico
- extreme weather conditions in overwintering and breeding grounds
- and decline in milkweed and nectar-producing plant availability in the species’ upper Midwestern breeding grounds
(source: Texas Monarch and Native Pollinator Conservation Plan APRIL 2016, Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Based on our own observation and research into the issue, we here at Two Clay Birds Farm are worried about other possible factors as well:
- loss of native and natural floral habitats for monarchs to large-scale, commercial farming and grazing
- use of synthetic pesticides
So, imagine our excitement and gratitude this week, then, when we realized that Two Clay Birds Farm has become an overwintering stop-over for monarchs! We walked outside about three days ago to realize that the cowpen daisy (Verbesina encelioides) plants that surround our outdoor shower had become a layover station for these wondrous and lovely critters and was covered in dozens of them who were drinking nectar from the cheerful, yellow flowers. As we had hoped when we built it last year, the shower’s greywater runoff had provided ample moisture for the native flora and fauna that bring both beauty and functionality to our land. The tall daisy plants prevent soil erosion around the sides and corners of fields and construction areas (such as our shower), and they provide food for pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, who visit not only the daisy plants but our crops as well. They also provide shelter for lots and lots of toads and other creatures who help keep mosquito populations under control.
If you would like to learn more about the monarch and other Texas pollinators, here are some great resources:
- Texas Monarch and Native Pollinator Conservation Plan APRIL 2016
- Management Recommendations for Native Insect Pollinators in Texas
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Pollinators of Texas
Want to encourage butterflies and other pollinators in your own yard and garden? Here is a list of tips from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service:
- Plant a pollinator garden—provide nectar and feeding plants (flowers and herbs).
- Provide a water source—place shallow dishes of water in sunny areas or create a muddy spot.
- Provide shelter and overwintering habitat (bee boxes, undisturbed soil areas, and piles of woody debris).
- Stop using insecticides and reduce other pesticides.
- Provide sunny areas out of the wind.
- Use native plant species whenever possible—mimic local natural areas.
- Grow flowers throughout season. Provide a variety of colors and shapes.
- Plant in clumps and layers. Use trees, shrub layers, with some lowgrowing perennials and vines—intermix with flowering annuals.
- Use compost instead of commercial fertilizers.
- Look but do not touch.
We welcome the presence of monarchs, bees, wasps, and other wildlife that benefit from our preservation of native habitat on this land we love. We have a chair in the midst of all this where we sit amongst the abundant and vibrant life that God has blessed us with – orange wings that look like stained glass cathedral windows, blue iridescent wings, silver butterfly wings that look like tinfoil wrappers glinting in the sunshine, honeybees and mason bees covered thick with yellow pollen, our resident praying mantis that reminds us to center and focus on Spirit. We look forward to many more years of being ambassadors to the monarch butterflies and all of the other critters who call our farm home.