The Leavenworth County Master Gardeners are planning their annual monarch butterfly waystation open house, inviting community members to see the most famous variety of butterflies as they make their way to Mexico.
The open house is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Master Gardener's educational garden at 500 Eisenhower Road in Leavenworth. Organizers say they'll have activities, information on the garden and perhaps the opportunity to tag some butterflies during their migration.
While experts say monarchs will still make their way down through the United States for warmer climates, it might not be in the numbers that monarch watchers are accustomed to.
Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor, professor of insect ecology at the University of Kansas and director of KU's Monarch Watch project, said there are a couple of different factors that affect monarch migration. One of them is food supply. Monarch larvae can subsist only on milkweed, Taylor said, and that like other crops milkweed yields have been depressed this summer by a prolonged drought along much of the monarch's traditional path through the Midwest.
“The numbers that are coming south through Iowa right now are not close to what we've seen in years past,” he said.
Migrations through the Northeast have been a little stronger, Taylor said, but he added that the population of butterflies has on the whole been declining over the past decade.
“We're down to about half as many monarchs as we had in the 90s,” he said.
Roundup Ready corn and soybean crops for farmers have also depleted the milkweed supply, Taylor said, having been designed to resist herbicides used to kill off weeds.
Between that and a general warming trend, Taylor encouraged butterfly lovers to start planting milkweed along roadsides and in their gardens, if possible — milkweed that he said is available from Monarch Watch.
“We have to start thinking ahead,” he said.