The monarch butterfly’s recent addition to an international list of endangered species is drawing concern from local organizers and supporters of pollinator pathways in Connecticut, along with calls for further action to protect insects and other wildlife.
“It’s kind of devastating and scary,” said Kim Rees, co-founder of the Art for a Cause Pollinator Garden in Southington. “The monarch butterfly is an iconic insect that we all grew up knowing and loving and it’s a huge pollinator, so it’s scary. It’s scary because we feel like, alright this is happening and then there’s going to be others that follow.”
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the monarch to its red list of threatened species on July 21, categorizing it as endangered — two steps from being extinct.
The organization estimates that the North American population of monarch butterflies will decline 22% to 72% over the next 10 years.
Because monarchs are a species that migrates long distances “they face additional hazards that the rest of the butterflies don’t,” said Shari Guarino, pollinator pathway coordinator for the Orchard Valley Garden Club of Southington and treasurer and pollinator pathway director for the Southington Land Trust.
But Guarino added, there are many insect species now facing extinction due to environmental factors.
“You have to realize also that we’re in the middle of an insect apocalypse, not just butterflies, because of three reasons — habitat destruction, climate change and pesticides,” Guarino said.
The iconic monarch butterfly’s endangered status may add greater urgency to ongoing efforts to restore habitat in community garden and residential yards.
Among the efforts statewide is the Pollinator Pathway program, organized by volunteers from town conservation organizations in 2017 to establish pollinator-friendly habitat and food sources for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinating insects and wildlife along a series of continuous corridors.
Since it was founded in Wilton, Connecticut, the program has grown to include over 200 cities and towns in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to its website www.pollinator-pathway.org.
“It’s a program that encourages private homeowners to keep their lands scruffy and to encourage wildflowers,” said Erin O’Hare, environmental and natural resources planner for the Town of Wallingford.
The pathways are a great way for butterflies to nourish themselves while migrating, according to Peter Picone, a wildlife biologist and board member of the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association in Meriden.
“Anything that provides nectar is important at that point,” Picone said.
Gary Copas, supervisor of the Wallingford Community Garden, said he has noticed more people have started to include pollinators in their gardens.
“Awareness of the garden over the past few years has changed many vegetable gardeners to include flowers that can feed the pollinators in their gardens,” Copas said. Previously most people only grew food. Now over half our gardeners include flowers.”
About half of the plants in the Art for a Cause garden are native to the Southington area, Rees said.
“That’s super important for pollinators,” Rees said. “They do obviously enjoy and would go to other plants that are not native … But they’re definitely more attracted to and benefited by the native plants and so we’re trying to increase the percentage of plants that we have there.”
Guarino said “they need the native plants to complete their life cycle.”
The Cheshire Pollinator Pathway is hosting a native plant workshop on Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. To learn more go online to: www.sustainablecheshire.org. Milkweed
Monarchs rely on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, so it is essential for a monarch caterpillar to become a butterfly.
“If everybody took their yard and if they had even a few square feet of lawn and they convert it to wildflowers and allowed milkweeds to grow there, you can benefit the monarchs,” Picone said. “Everybody can contribute. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an eighth of an acre or eight acres … you can help monarchs at almost any level.”
Guarino will be giving out milkweed at the Southington Farmer’s Market on the Town Green on Aug. 12, she said.
In the fall, the Art for a Cause Pollinator Pathway will also host a milkweed plant giveaway.
“People don’t really know where to go for milkweed,” Rees said. “I need time to root the seedlings and right now is not a great time to transplant them. It will be better in the fall, but I am hoping with the awareness that this brings that if we can get even 100 people to show up and take a seedling and plant it somewhere in a yard, it’s something.”
Picone said that people should rethink the purpose of plants — all aspects of them provide nourishment to insects, including the leaves, so it is important to start planting.
“What’s really amazing is anybody can make a difference,” Picone said. “It’s not magical, a lot of money. It's basically anybody. You can make a difference literally one plant at a time.”
To learn more about the pollinator pathway program, go to https://www.pollinator-pathway.org/about.
On Oct. 2, the Connecticut Butterfly Association will host a monarch tagging event at Hammonasset State Park’s Meigs Point Nature Center from 9 a.m. to noon. Participants will learn how to safely capture and tag a butterfly as part of efforts to study the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico.
To learn more, go to https://allevents.in/madison/monarch-tagging-at-hammonassett/200023024056151.