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Where are the monarchs?

A survey over recent weeks by the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust shows real concern for the health of NZ’s monarch butterfly population.

“There are many people who don’t understand about the life-cycle of monarch butterflies but still enjoy seeing them each summer,” said Jacqui Knight, secretary of the Trust. “And then there are others who go out of their way to protect and encourage this beautiful orange butterfly, an icon of a typical NZ summer – and 340 of those people responded.”

At the end of each summer monarch butterflies find places in tall trees in which to overwinter. Those that survive the wintry weather return to gardens in the spring to lay eggs on swan plants available at garden centres, or grown from seed. A female monarch can lay hundreds of eggs and throughout the summer the number of butterflies multiply – but many caterpillars become food for ants and wasps. With the increase in the paper wasps numbers are gradually in decline.

About three-quarters of the people who responded expressed concerns about the shortage of monarchs returning to their gardens so far this season, with half of the respondees seeing virtually no eggs, caterpillars or chrysalises. Half of the respondees offered protection from the many predators that the monarchs face, mostly social wasps, using, for example, a butterfly house or caterpillar castle.

Jacqui says that there are many ideas on how people can help monarch butterflies on their website,

“The monarch is an indicator species. Their presence tells us our gardens are great for pollination – and the survival of the human race depends on pollination.”

What is even more alarming is that most people don’t even recognise New Zealand’s indigenous butterfly species

“If you recognise a monarch you can learn more about them, but if you don’t recognise a species how will you know if it is in decline or not, how to encourage them, how to save them?” she added.

Ecologist Brian Patrick in Christchurch shares their concern.

“Some of our butterflies are teetering on the edge of survival,” he said. “The plight of our butterfly fauna is heavily dependent on human respect if they are to survive and thrive.”

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