Only two years ago, the migrating monarch butterflies change the gardens of Cape May Point into a kaleidoscope of colors. Mark Garland of the Monarch Monitoring Project describes the migrating monarch butterflies as a series of “giant orange snowglobes.” Those were the days when thousands of monarch butterflies flew overhead.
However this year there has not been any spectacle this year round. However Garland and his team are still nurturing hope that they will be able to see the grand spectacle once again. Members of the project team take census of the monarchs thrice daily. For a few more weeks the orange-and-black insects will be seen drifting towards the peninsula, drinking and filling to its full sweet nectar before the thermals will lift them over the Delaware Bay and towards Mexico.
Garland measures the wings and the fat stores before giving it a numbered sticker. No other animal can invoke such devotion and study as the monarch butterfly. The monarch butterflies and its multi-generational migration stretching for an incredible 3000 miles from the Canadian heartland to Mexico and back, is viewed with awe and admiration. It is synonymous with beauty and mystery of nature. After centuries of sightings, the discovery of their Mexican wintering sites was first reported in National Geographic in 1976.
The migration which had puzzled researchers has now become a thing of past. The Monarch Butterfly population is declining at an alarming rate. A number of factors like Illegal logging in Mexico, wildfires, droughts, and a drastic loss of their crucial milkweed habitat have all contributed to the rapid decline in the Monarch population.
The situation is so bad that the US government is getting involved and starting a major campaign to save them. Last winter saw the lowest monarch count ever recorded at a time when other pollinators such as honeybees, native bees, birds, and bats—vital to U.S. agriculture and therefore the nation’s economy—also are facing serious decline.
Lincoln Brower, a biologist who teaches at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Brower, who has studied monarchs for 60 years, says, “This year we saw a catastrophic drop in population, we could lose the migration and overwintering phenomena, which are unique and spectacular behaviors.”