Lehigh Valley conservationists are tracking the population drop of one of the most recognizable butterflies in North America. The orange and black-winged monarch butterfly has been declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Andy Fedor is a conservation education specialist and helps manage about 50 acres of butterfly-friendly meadows at Jacobsburg State Park in Nazareth.
“We don’t have a lot of these meadows in the Lehigh Valley anymore because of all of the development that’s gone on over the years. So we’re just trying to provide a different type of habitat for all animals to use,” said Fedor.
He says monarchs exclusively lay their eggs on plants that people often spray with herbicides.
“If you don’t have milkweed, you won’t have monarchs,” said Fedor. “And once they have completed their life cycle of the caterpillar stage, they need to have a variety of nectaring plants.”
Conservation volunteer Doug Burton has been watching over the butterflies at Jacobsburg for the past eight years as part of Monarch Watch, a worldwide research program that tags monarchs and records their activity.
Burton says the tag is like a small sticker that is placed in the middle of the right-side wing.
“So, it’s a little round tag that’s about the size of an eraser head, and it’s very, very sticky,” said Burton.
Burton says he catches and tags about 100 monarch’s a year at Jacobsburg. But he’s seen that number drop off in recent years.
“We had some years that we’d only get (tag) in the thirties. We were only getting 33 monarchs… 37 monarchs,” said Burton.
Monarchs from the Lehigh Valley typically travel south to Mexico in the fall. They then head to the mid-western part of the U.S. in the early spring – before laying their eggs and dying off.
But Burton’s worried that they’ll die off completely if their habitats are not protected.
“The more land goes away, or the more you spray – it’s going to be less host plant food for all butterflies,” he said.
Fedor hopes that the endangered listing will inspire lawmakers to push for state regulations to protect land for the monarch.
“It’s something that we’ve seen happening for a while and we’re finally getting people to pay attention to it,” said Fedor.
Until then, he encourages people to plant milkweed and avoid using pesticides.
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