Monarch butterflies on the decline at Meriden habitat

Monarch butterflies on the decline at Meriden habitat

Record-Journal


MERIDEN — Monarch butterflies are hard to find during summer and are becoming more rare at a local butterfly and bee habitat, despite efforts to boost the population.

The Quinnipiac River Watershed Association’s Butterfly and Bee Habitat opened in 2010. During it’s first full summer in 2011, visitors saw a large number of the distinct orange and black-winged butterflies, said Becky Martorelli, who manages the habitat.

“The monarch butterfly population has declined rapidly,” she said.

Martorelli said she hadn’t seen a monarch butterfly at the habitat yet this year, but was surprised on Tuesday to see a female monarch looking for a spot to lay eggs. To attract the butterflies, Martorelli keeps a close eye on the milkweed plants. Monarch butterflies feed on milkweed and lay eggs on the leaves so the larvae can feed.

The habitat was first called a butterfly garden, but the name was changed after some visitors commented that the space didn’t look like a garden.

“It’s not your neat and tidy garden, but its flourishing,” Martorelli said about the plant life in the habitat.

A path of stones created by students at the Venture Academy twists through the plants. A variety of plants bloom throughout the area, including white Queen Anne’s Lace, colorful cone flowers, red-colored bee balm and others. Two yellow Eastern Swallow Tail butterflies flitting around the habitat Tuesday, enjoying a butterfly bush.

Gale Ridge, assistant scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, said the general butterfly habitat in the state and in New England is fine, and there is plenty of milkweed planted by people looking to help the butterflies. The problem is the butterflies go to Central America in the winter, a journey which takes four to six weeks. A mix of agriculture, deforestation and other factors leave fewer habitats for the butterflies when they make it to Mexico and other countries, leading to a decline in the population that started 20 years ago, Ridge said.

Residents are also reporting fewer bumblebees this year, but Ridge said all the bee populations she has seen are “robust and healthy.” The reports may be the result of bees moving to another spot in the yard or to nearby property.

“They do come back,” Ridge said.

A host of volunteers, including students, members of the Kiwanis Club and other QRWA members, help out at the habitat.

Martorelli said she is always looking for volunteers, especially in the summer and fall months to help with the upkeep of the plants. Anyone looking to volunteer can contact Martorelli at (203) 213-4366.


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