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Monarch Butterfly Population Seeing Spike In Numbers This Summer

(Taylor Haggerty, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hoosiers might be noticing a few more monarch butterflies in their gardens this year. Experts say the endangered insect’s population is slightly higher this summer.

Official counts for 2018 haven’t been released, but entomologists say the weather– as well as some recent efforts to provide more habitat – are helping the butterfly population grow.

Jonathan Neal is an associate professor of entomology at Purdue University. He says while April was very cold in Indiana, a warm May followed. And he says that warm weather is great for both monarch butterflies and caterpillars.

Those caterpillars will become the next generation of butterflies, Neal says, so good weather for them is good for the overall population.

“The monarchs have produced adults early on, and they seem to continue to be doing quite well,” Neal says.

Monarch butterflies come to Indiana each spring from Mexico. The butterflies that survive the trip lay eggs, which hatch into caterpillars after a short incubation period. Neal says there can be as many as five generations each summer, and each one is larger than the last.

He says the biggest issue for the monarch population is habitat. The butterflies rely heavily on milkweed, and agricultural practices are decreasing that plant’s numbers.

“Weed control has gotten more efficient, so that’s reduced the amount of milkweed in agricultural fields,” Neal says.

But Neal says some recent policy changes are helping to fix that.

The Indiana Department of Transportation’s Vegetation Management program, for example, reduces the frequency of roadside mowing and uses selective herbicides to fight invasive species. The program, launched in 2014, aims to help native plants like milkweed flourish.

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