☷Environmental engineers maintain grasslands for Monarch butterflies pollinators
U.S. Army ( By Press Release office)
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Fort Knox officials are waiting and watching for the migratory arrival of monarch butterflies from Mexico . Weather has likely prevented the butterflies from arriving sooner . FORT KNOX , Ky . — Butterflies haven’t arrived at Fort Knox yet . Referring specifically to the more than 500 , 000 monarchs that migrate to overwintering sites in Mexico every year and then back here in the spring . Biologists here say they are ready for them when they do arrive . “The primary part of this are the forbs , or wildflowers . They are the key to all this , ” said Fort Knox biologist Mike Brandenburg . “One of the things we have to manage is to not let the grasses get too thick , so that they then don’t outcompete the forbs that these species need — not just the monarchs but all pollinators , including bees and beetles . ” Brandenburg said a unique key to attracting monarchs into the area involves cultivating a weed that most people would fight to remove from their lawns and gardens . “Monarchs rely upon milkweed plants , ” said Brandenburg . “That’s where they exclusively lay their eggs , and then the eggs hatch and the little caterpillars start eating that milkweed . ” Brandenburg explained that milkweed is the critical component of a successful monarch migration to areas as far north as Canada that involves four or five generations each year . It’s also critical to their survival against threatening predators since milkweed is poisonous to other species . Flowers are an integral part of life for a butterfly , as well as other pollinators . Fort Knox biologists maintain several sites to promote wildflower and milkweed growth for the monarchs . Another key to their success includes the monarchs known as the “super generation . ” The eastern population of the super generation , born in late August to early September , flies thousands of miles south to an area in Central Mexico for the winter . While there , they mate and make the long trip back up to the United States in search of egg laying spots . Those eggs make up the first generation of the year . As monarchs reproduce , each successive generation continues its migratory journey north , although their lifespan is considerably shorter than that of the super generation . The U . S . Fish & Wildlife Service in August 2021 sounded the alarm on plummeting monarch populations in recent years . According to officials there , “From 1996 to 2020 , the eastern monarch population dropped 88 percent , from an estimated 838 million to just under 45 million . “The monarch butterfly , probably the world’s best - known butterfly , has become the symbol for a whole class of imperiled pollinators . ” Brandenburg said one possible reason for the shrinking numbers of pollinators is a shrinking landscape conducive to their survival and farmers’ repulsion of weeds , like milkweeds . “Monarchs are dependent upon the milkweed species . That’s where the problems have occurred , ” said Brandenburg . “Through a lot of the common agricultural practices these days with pesticides and herbicides that use glyphosates , particularly the milkweed is very susceptible to it . “That’s part of a problem that’s been identified with the pollinators in general , but specifically the monarch , is the reduction in the amount of milkweed that’s available for that species to reproduce . ” As a result , the Environmental Management Division at Fort Knox employs a comprehensive , strategic and aggressive plan that seeks to maintain a balance of trees , grasses and wildflowers , which all wildlife can thrive in . Part of the monarch plan involves capitalizing on roughly seven different species of milkweed that they cultivate in what Brandenburg calls “pollinator focus areas . ” “Those areas used to be mowed , and it was very expensive to mow all of it , so we took them over , ” said Brandenburg . “We saved the installation on mowing , and we gained a habitat benefit there . We have been managing those areas specifically for early successional what we would call ‘prairies’ or ‘barrens’ remnants . ” Within those habitats are some uncommon species of milkweed . “This effort makes us much more ecologically rich , ” said Brandenburg . “We need to be sustainable , so we get the benefits from this ecological diversity to provide for habitats that in a lot of off - post locations are going to be either mowed , or they’re in crops , or they’re in pastures , or in hay production . “Next to wetlands , those habitats are some of the most endangered areas in Kentucky . ” Brandenburg said while they are doing all that can be done to encourage growth of pollinator species , including the monarchs , more can be done . “We all need to do what we can before these species become imperiled , ” said Brandenburg . “You can go buy you some milkweed seeds , plant it in the backyard , and have and watch monarchs . ” - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Editor’s Note: To track the monarch butterfly migration , go to https://www . monarchwatch . org/tagmig/spring . htm , or Monarch Butterflies ( journeynorth . org ) .
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