Where are the Monarchs?

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    Phone calls and emails are coming in from all over the country, and the reports in here all add up to one thing: it seems like most people throughout the country are saying "where are the Monarchs?".

    Admittedly, for those who are experiencing normal numbers, they won't be worried, and are unlikely to phone/email, but there has certainly been a lot more concern than previous years. In the many years I've been raising Monarchs I've never seen a season as bad as this.

    When you're attuned to Nature it becomes apparent that there are good years and bad years for everything. I remember several years where there were so many crickets they were like a plague. The jacarandas have been phenomenal this year… and probably next year they will be unnoticeable.

    Is this season just one of those extreme events for butterflies?

    Today a female Monarch visited and there are 30-40 swan plants on my deck. She visited two; I watched her lay two eggs, her abdomen curling around to get the underside of the leaf. Then she flew off to another part of the garden. I went to see the eggs – there was nothing there. There had been no time for any other insect to take them, and there were no other insects around. So where were the eggs?

    Could she be "laying blanks", thinking she's laying but not? I wonder… Anyone got any ideas?

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    My nana had at least 5 butterflies in her garden today while i was there.

    And i went to bunnings in naenae and bought a plant with 5 pillars in a range of sizes on it 🙂



    Update, update! Quite a few eggs on my plants today. Wonderful. 🙂



    Zoe9's right; the butterflies aren't safe either…
    Spring this season I observed a paper wasp land on the back of a monarch butterfly, tear a piece off it's abdomen, then fly to a nearby plant and eat the piece.
    It then flew back and attempted to take another piece…
    by which time I had got my scissors an chopped the wasp in two.



    " Is there an upper limit to the size of caterpillar a wasp can take on?"

    Not in my experience. The smaller ones are easier to take back to the nest, but if you have protein eating wasps hanging about I don't believe any caterpillar is safe, including those hanging in a J.



    In Tauranga I often see asian paper wasps on the flowers of my swan plants. I've never seen one attacking a caterpillar, but the eggs and caterpillars are disappearing regularly. I saw 3 biggies the other day, probably 3rd or 4th instar. The next day went to check and there was nothing. Is there an upper limit to the size of caterpillar a wasp can take on?



    Renee – I can highly recommend these plants here (and of course the sales benefit the MBNZT). You would just love Char's garden, and can contact her directly if you like, charlotte@monarch.org.nz.




    How long did you spot the eggs before the rain ? Do you have a population of wasps at the moment?



    I thought the same but I saw a LOT of eggs on those leaves and they all disappeared ???



    Most eggs are laid underneath the leaves Renee, so there should be quite good protection. They also stick quite well. Hail certainly would be another matter though.



    Yes we had a lot of heavy rain and I think it washed away a lot of my eggs.



    This is an interesting thread.

    I observed a Mrs M today (I strongly suspect it is the same solitary one that originally came from a chrysalis that came from Jacqui) and she is getting a bit faded but wings still very much all there, and she is big. Now as I was watching her abdomen curl under, and she did this numerous times (about 6) I never saw her lay one egg. It looked very much to me like she had a very fat abdomen.

    I have about 10 eggs and Ive brought some of those in, becasue Ive noticed a few have gone AWOL.

    With the thunderstorms we've had today and lately, everything should "take off" growth wise…. I mean the little new swanplants should really just surge ahead.

    I cant say this season is the worst Ive had, because one year I never got a visit from a Mrs.M at all even though I had swanplants. However I would still term it as VERY slow. Certainly down here, unless theres something untoward I dont know about, the weather I should think has played the main part in this late season.



    It's been the same for me here also. I had about 4 lots of eggs laid on my swan plant but only 1 lot survived and that was the last lot, and late in the season.

    I'm planning on buying lots of swan plants and planting them all over our property where I can and putting some on the deck. When I see caterpillars on the plants outside I can move them onto the deck.
    I was hoping for more chrysalises than 4 but it's still better than nothing. I think it must have been wasps that got my other pillars too – or birds.

    If only we could get lots of people to do the same as us… we could get the Monarch numbers up.
    Perhaps by making a pamphlet explaining how endangered they are now and explaining how butterflies help the environment, and having all the stores that sell seeds to have the pamphlets next to all their seeds. Maybe more people would do their bit to help. ?



    Yes, I think it was new, Norm, Swansong – the colours were bright and the dark. So it may well have been umated/practising.



    Jacqui – Did you notice if it was a fresh or older female?
    Unmated female butterflies will sometimes go through the motions of laying, without producing anything, although virgin females are usually "pounced upon" fairly quickly!
    If it was an older female its possible it may have laid its quota but still trying. Also occasionally butterflies can carry out "egg dropping", where the tip of the abdomen does not quite touch the underside of the leaf and the egg drops down. It will sometimes adhere to a leaf lower down, or finish up on the ground.



    On the page of Tags supplied for tagging there are some 'do not use' or dummie tags. I have used these on butterflies that I have managed to catch, to see if they stick around – and they do. A couple of them have gone for days on end and then presto – back again. Seem to be locals.



    Again this morning I watched a female Monarch supposedly ovipositing on A. curassavica, but leaving no eggs behind! It may well have been the same female, but I can't tell.



    I also think that the late start here in the Manawatu is partially 'weather' responsible, however, we had eggs laid in profusion in August and they were all taken by the German Wasps. I have many wasps this season, and have just this morning seen the Asian Paper wasp nectaring on my milkweed, so both are around, but mostly German. All the wasps I have seen on my plants recently, have been nectaring rather than taking caterpillars or eggs. I think the season is well under way here now, but I have an unsubstantiated feeling that this season is late.



    Happyjohnny hit the nail on the head as when I lived in Hamilton, the Wasps would clean up until late Jan then the onslaught of caterpillars would begin.
    Down this part of the North Island (Northern Manawatu), the Asian paper Wasp does not exist here, so the 'lull' before the onslaught is caused by lack of Monarchs due to a poor season (weather), I believe.



    I have definitely seen butterflies "fire blanks" as you so aptly put it Jacqui. Maybe this is a practice run, with a "new" Mrs M just learning to get the idea ???? dunno, just a thought. Did you observe whether your one was older or did she look fresh and new. If it was the former, then so much for my theory. : )….BUT then again, maybe she needs a dry run to get going each day??? Just another thought.



    Thanks for that HJ. When people email/phone me, wanting/offering plants, wanting/offering caterpillars etc, I direct them to the forum and hope they'll put a note there. Some of them do, but there are more.

    This year's levels are definitely not typical for around here. I have just assessed (guessing) fifty plants on my way home from the bookshop, found two eggs and one praying mantis! No caterpillars, didn't see a butterfly.

    I met some people this morning and we were discussing this. He commented on another note how strange it was down at Matauwhi Bay, where a number of people moor their yachts. They have always had problems with birds, mostly swallows, resting on the decks and have had to rig up various devices to keep them off. This year – no birds! There are plenty of birds in the bush, just none fouling the boats.

    Very interesting.




    Jacqui… You'd have a much better idea of monarch numbers nationally than I, however, very few monarchs at this time of year is actually very normal for me and the increase in calls may simply be due to the recent publicity the trust has received.

    Looking back at the date-taken of my photos from previous years I can confirm that I haven't had ANY caterpillars on my outside swanplants at this time of year, any year.

    Looking at your survey the majority of people who have monarch butterflies in their garden are those who raise them indoors.

    For me, this time of year (Nov to Feb) the wasps kill every single caterpillar outside; the only monarchs fluttering about are presumably ones that I have reared indoors.
    My swanplants always get to grow to quite a large size in the 'downtime'.

    Then come late Feb / early March, when the wasps change their diet, I have a complete onslaught of caterpillars; hundreds and hundreds.
    It will start with only a dozen or so, but they change to butterflies, lay their eggs, and the numbers multiply FAST.
    They quickly devour every single swan plant that I have.

    These late-season butterflies presumably over-winter as I end up having high numbers of butterflies returning in spring to start the process again.

    Maybe this isn't normal for everyone else, but this is how it has been in Tauranga for me almost every year since the early 1990's when the asain paperwasps grew in numbers.

    So my best advice for people calling would simply be to keep some plants in pots and bring them inside when they have eggs on them.
    If people do that now, those caterpillars should be turning into butterflies at the right time to start the 'onslaught' in March….

    And with everyone's swanplants growing soooo big from having no caterpillars over summer, there should be plenty of late-season butterflies to over winter – possibly leading to increased numbers for next season.

    Just my 2c worth.

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