Upstate New York is a popular summer destination for many, but one frequent visitor didn't make the trip this year. Barry Wygel has the story of the monarch butterfly's troubled year and why you haven't been seeing them in your backyard.
NEW YORK STATE --The trouble started last winter.
"A lot of them died from cold and not enough nectar in the drought areas of Texas and New Mexico," said Sue Hanley, butterfly house manager at Paul Smith's College Visitor Interpretive Center.
The monarch butterfly is a migratory species, spending its winters in the south and summers in the north. But the adverse conditions last winter led to the lowest number of butterflies ever recorded making the journey north.
"The same thing happened in the spring when they came up through, so to have that happen twice in a migration is really tough," said Hanley.
If you think you've seen a monarch butterfly this summer, you might actually be mistaken. This butterfly looks strikingly familiar to the monarch, but is actually a completely separate species, which doesn't compete with the monarch. Therefore, a decrease in monarchs doesn't mean an increase in other butterflies and experts say the more butterflies, the better.
"Butterflies are pollinators. They aren't quite as efficient of pollinators as bees, but very good pollinators. They are also food," said Hanley.
That's why efforts to preserve butterfly populations have become so important, such as the Karner Blue butterfly in the Albany area.
If you miss seeing your orange winged friend, there are some things you can do to help protect the butterflies who survive the trip north.
"You can have an area where it is sunny where you leave wild flowers and especially the common milkweed, where they not only drink their nectar, but leave their eggs on. It needs to be a sheltered area, not too windy, and of course, you wouldn't want to spray anything, because butterflies are bugs," said Hanley.
Hanley says that with a little help from Mother Nature, the monarch population could rebound to full-strength in the coming years.
Butterfly researchers in the Adirondack Park captured some of the monarchs that made the trip north and tagged them, hoping to track the butterfly's progress as it makes its winter journey south.
To learn more about New York butterflies and to visit some in person, you can visit the Paul Smith's College VIC website at www.adirondackvic.org.