Monarch Butterflies | St. Louis Public Radio

Monarch Butterflies

Conservationists say the population of Monarch butterflies has been declining since the late 1990s.
Courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation

Missouri conservationists will hold a festival Saturday at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles to ask gardeners to help boost the declining population of Monarch butterflies.

Researchers say the population of the iconic butterflies has declined by 80 percent since the late 1990s, largely due to the loss of their habitats. 

Weldon Spring, which is best known as a federally managed nuclear waste site, now has a thriving native prairie garden that attracts Monarchs, said Bob Lee of Missourians for Monarchs, which is organizing the Monarch Madness festival.

A monarch butterfly feeding on a milkweed plant.
Tom Koerner | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Scientists are concerned that monarch butterflies could be facing a new threat: pesticides that contain dicamba. 

A report released last week from the Center for Biological Diversity showed that monarch butterflies migrate through areas of the southern and Midwestern United States where dicamba is heavily used. The chemical can interrupt the growth of milkweed and other plants that the species feeds on. Monarch populations are critical pollinators of wildflowers and other plants, but the species has declined more than 80 percent in the last two decades

Monarchs are starting their annual migration through the region. This butterfly was spotted at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park on Sept. 24, 2016.
Robert Peterson | St. Louis Public Radio

The next two weeks will offer Missourians peak opportunities to see monarch butterflies as they make their way through the state on their annual migration, even though reports indicate a shrinking population.

John Burroughs seniors Garrett Moore and Hunter Wilkins plant milkweed at Bellerive Park on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Mayor Francis Slay’s initiative to plant Monarch butterfly gardens throughout the city has a new addition in south St. Louis funded by a company that sells herbicides.

The 1,500-square-foot milkweed patch in south St. Louis is the first in a series of butterfly gardens planned along the Mississippi River.

St. Louis city hall now has monarch habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The city of St. Louis is being recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as a leader in the effort to restore the monarch butterfly habitat.

Lincoln Brower

Last Friday, the St. Louis office of the National Weather Service picked up something pretty unusual on its radars.

As first reported by Citylab’s John Metcalfe, meteorologists detected a cloud-like formation that kept moving around and changing into odd shapes. After some analysis, they concluded that the “cloud” was in fact a giant swarm of monarch butterflies, headed south on its annual migration to Mexico.

Mockup of the milkweed balloons
Provided by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Activism can take unexpected forms. This past weekend, naked and nearly naked bicyclists took off from St. Louis’ Grove area to circle the city to encourage renewable energy use, positive body image and bike safety.

On Wednesday evening, a Chicago artist will hand out balloons in Grand Center in an effort to preserve the Monarch butterfly population. Milkweed seeds inside the balloons are the key.

Lincoln Brower

The City of St. Louis and several partners are launching a project to help monarch butterflies.

It involves encouraging area residents to plant milkweeds -- a plant with large fruit pods that release fluffy seeds in the fall.

The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the partners in the “Milkweeds for Monarchs” initiative, along with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The zoo's curator of invertebrates, Edward Spevak, says milkweeds are critical to the monarch’s survival.

Lincoln Brower

Every year, monarch butterflies undertake what seems like an impossible journey.

By the millions, they leave their summer breeding grounds in the United States and Canada to fly thousands of miles to a small area of alpine forest in central Mexico.

Ecologist Lincoln Brower has been studying monarchs for almost 60 years.