Butterfly counts low as heat wave continues through midwest

KINGSVILLE, Mo. - Day 74 of the Drought in the Heartland brings even more bad news. Ecologists in Kansas and Missouri say the extreme heat has resulted in a 10-year low in butterfly counts.

In fact, these high temperatures are so destructive to the insects that some scientists are worried about the entire world's Monarch butterfly population.

In less than a month, millions of monarch butterflies are expected to migrate South through Kansas and Missouri, as they make their seasonal trek from Canada to Mexico.

"Monarchs need to feed on nectar throughout the journey. Yet, our flowers here in Kansas and Missouri which should be blooming in the Fall, are already done blooming now in Mid-August," said Chip Taylor, director of monarch watch at the University of Kansas. "That means the butterflies won't be able to put on the fat that they need to get to Mexico. They better be able to pick up nectar somewhere. If not here, then in Texas. If not in Texas, then in Mexico. Or else, they are in trouble."

Taylor's group, Monach Watch, tracks butterflies by tagging them with identification stickers. He hopes the butterflies headed through the Midwest on their migratory path will be able to find enough nectar to survive.

"We've got millions of butterflies coming here from all over the Northern states, and conditions here are going to impact the number of butterflies that reach the overwintering sites," Taylor said. "That's a given and the way it has to work in a drought. For this migration to work, the butterflies have to have nectar sources all the way to Mexico."

On Saturday, Taylor was taking part in the annual butterfly festival at the Powell Botanical Gardens in Kingsville, Mo.

The festival, according to organizers, has the most attendance of any butterfly festival in the country. This year, organizers brought in several tents with native and exotic butterflies. Yet, horticulturists are worried about the beautiful insects, since according to the National American Association Butterfly Count, we've seen the lowest number of monarch butterflies in 10 years.

With fewer butterflies, the scientists say we'll see less birds, bees, and flowers. The impact of this drought, now spanning one-third of the country, could be seen well beyond next summer says Taylor.

"It's not a little drought. It's a pretty big one, and we're likely to see this have a pretty big impact for months to come," he said.

Horticulturists at Powell Gardens are encouraging people to plant Tropical Milkweed, Butterfly Bush, and even Native thistle to help butterflies get enough nectar to make their annual voyage to Mexico this Winter. They say it isn't too late to help this final generation of butterflies to survive.

Horticulturists also said there is one solution to helping our local monarch butterflies that won't cost you a dime.

They suggest putting fruit, such as peaches, apricots and mangos on top of a birdhouse in your yard. Those types of fruit, according to horticulturists, have more nectar than an entire garden's worth of plants.

The 16th Annual Festival of Butterflies runs through Sunday, August 12th until 6pm at Powell Garden.

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