Dry, dry, dry! It has been a rainless summer so far. This has caused some unusual goings on in the animal kingdom here at Rondeau. Our sloughs, or forest wetlands, have been dry since late spring. While there have been some upsides to the lack of rain such as much fewer Mosquitoes than normal, there are other, more sinister changes that are only now becoming apparent.
Monarchs are a highly specialized species. This means, simplified, that they are very picky eaters. Monarch caterpillars feed only on one type of plant – the milkweeds. While milkweed enjoys the record hot and dry weather that both Canada and the United States have been getting, there is perhaps too much of a good thing. The milkweed plants seem to have peaked early, which is troublesome for the monarch generation that is getting ready to migrate to Mexico (their winter retreat). What will happen if the milkweed is all dying for newly emerged caterpillars, which must eat several times their body weight every day?
Monarchs are walking a fine line this year (or flying it, as it were). There have been varying degrees of rainfall throughout the Monarch’s range. Here in Ontario, things are not as bleak as they might appear. It is still possible to see the usual numbers of our brightest butterflies, perhaps just a bit later in the season. It is in the central and lower United States that things are starting to appear dire. The drought that has wreaked havoc on hundreds of acres of crop land down there has caused not only a sad lack of our favourite veggies, but many of the flowering plants are well past their prime. As our Monarchs move southward on their magnificent mass movement, scientists are scratching their heads as to whether there will be enough nectar to go around.
All of this is pure speculation. Nothing will be known for sure until all the Monarchs have arrived in their Mexican roosting grounds, and the size of these gatherings can be measured. Until then, a little rain wouldn’t go amiss, so anyone with the knowledge of successful rain-dance techniques… This would be your moment!