It's considered one of the greatest wildlife phenomena in our country - the migration of the Monarch butterfly, in which the tiny creatures travel more than 2,000 miles from our region down to Mexico for the winter. But, some are predicting this could be a terrible year for the butterflies. Local researchers tell us what they're seeing so far.
“Gender, overall condition,” Mark Garland is keeping a close eye on the bright colored beauty. “It's already tagged, but I’ll make note of it.” As part of the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, they're out counting butterflies every day in Cape May Point around this time every year. “It's a little too early to tell, but there's a lot of concern that the Monarch numbers are going to be very low this year,” said Garland, who’s been studying the butterflies for years.
Concerns about the cool, wet spring here in the northeast and drastically low numbers of Monarchs wintering in Mexico are prompting the prediction. “This the 22nd year we've been doing this, and four years have been even lower than this year,” said Garland, “so yeah, it's a low year, but thus far, our numbers say its not as dire as some folks have predicted.”
“It is very early in the season,” said Samm Wehman, with the Monarch Monitoring Project, “it’s too early to really tell how our numbers are going to be, the peaking doesn't really start until later in the month, so we'll just have to wait and see.”
While they aren't seeing a lot of butterflies in Cape May Point right now, they are seeing a lot of eggs and caterpillars, which could be a good sign. “With female Monarchs laying 200 or more eggs in their lives, the population can come back quite quickly,” said Garland, “and we've seen, after very low years within one or two years later, the population can come back up very well. The question is, is there a minimum number of monarchs that if the population drops that low, they wont be able to rebound?”
It's a question researchers hope they'll never have to know the answer to, but one they'll be forced to ponder if this year’s predictions are accurate.
To learn more about Monarch butterflies and the Monitoring Project, click here.
For a blog on the latest happening in Cape May with the migration, click here.
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