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Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Not many butterflies in my yard last year. Fewer so far this year. Why?"

Red Admiral

 This is the ninth year in a row that the population of monarchs wintering in Mexico has fallen below its long-term average, and this year it hit an all-time low.  Butterflies, especially Monarchs, are in crisis, and we must take immediate action to protect them! Less than 20 years ago, an astounding 1 billion monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter. This year, a small fraction of that -- just 33.5 million -- made the journey. 

Why is there a crisis? In large part it's because industrial agriculture is killing off the native milkweed on which monarchs depend. Big Ag's uses “kill everything” herbicides like glyphosate -- marketed as Roundup by Monsanto -- the EPA could dramatically increase the monarch's chance for survival, as well as many other butterflies. This can be done, not by banning herbicides entirely, but by placing common sense limits on their use.

Butterfly Weed
Monarchs can't live without milkweed -- it is the only plant on which they lay their eggs. In north Texas, milkweed-family plants include around 100 species.  In north Texas gardens the most common is called Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa). having showy reddish-orange flower clusters when it's established. [Before you react poorly to the word "weed", know that it has Germanic roots, and merely means "plant" in another language)  A mass of Butterfly Weed is heaven for butterflies. Other popular native milkweeds are Green Milkweed Asclepias Viridis) and Antelope Horns (Asclepias Asperula). Also, there is the Texas Milkweed (Asclepias Texana) and many many more. Unfortunately, glyphosates like Roundup kill them all. Hence, fewer butterflies.

         Each year, as they have for countless generations, North American monarchs undertake an epic journey, flittering upwards of 3,000 miles across the U.S. and Canada to just a relative few wintering grounds, including Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains where they winter.

But as industrial agriculture has ramped up its use of genetically engineered crops resistant to weed killers like glyphosate, it has also dramatically escalated its use of herbicides -- and butterly populations have plunged.

So I recommend planting a mass (at least a dozen plants) of milkweeds in your yard this year. Maybe they won't flower in the first season, but you may help some butterfly families have a brighter outlook.
Gulf Frittilary



Putting red dye in Hummingbird nectar can harm birds

According to Wildbird magazine, if nectar is dyed red, a typical Hummingbird (weighing just a few grams) takes in 10 times the amount of dye necessary to cause DNA damage.

High doses of Red #40 (the most popular dye) will also result in “significantly reduced reproductive success, parental and offspring weight” according to researchers. Plain nectar is what they need.  Nothing more.  Another research study proved that red food coloring is, more often than not, harmful to Hummingbirds.

Here in the north Texas heat, microscopic bits of mold (found in most food coloring) can multiply rapidly in heat, ruining an entire batch of nectar and making the birds go elsewhere, usually for the entire season. So change nectar frequently - every week or so.

         Adding color to nectar is just an “urban legend”; it’s never been proven to be necessary or helpful.  Nowadays, almost all feeders are colorful enough all by themselves.  In truth, it’s not just red that attracts them.  It’s any bright color except green; (an adaptation that lets them spot nectar-producing flowers in a leafy forest or jungle). 

          So please keep the nectar fresh and clear, and the Hummingbirds healthy!


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

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