The monarch butterfly population in North America increased in 2019, but that number appears to have decreased by more than half, according to a Texas A&M researcher.

In a March 2019 article in The Eagle, Craig Wilson, a Texas A&M researcher and director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Future Scientists Program, estimated the population of migrating monarch butterflies had increased as much as 144% from 2018. The pilgrimage from Mexico to Canada last year was estimated to be the largest since 2007. Now, according to Wilson’s recent interview with Texas A&M Today, the butterflies appear to have begun their spring migration too early, and the number of butterflies has decreased from 300 million monarchs to just over 140 million.

The Texas A&M Today article, published Thursday, cites Wilson as saying that monarchs have begun their journey to lay eggs in Texas at least three weeks earlier than expected, thanks to warmer temperatures seen recently in Mexico. Normally, the butterflies would mate in Mexico over the winter, and during the spring equinox they would lay their eggs in milkweed throughout Texas on their way up to Canada.

“On Wednesday, March 11, I spotted the first arrival from the state of Michoacan, Mexico,” Wilson is quoted in the article. “It was a female with very faded wings, so she likely migrated through this area last October heading to Mexico. She appeared desperate to lay eggs on milkweed, but only a few tiny leaves are emerging.”

As stated in last year’s Eagle article, milkweed are the only flowers that monarchs can lay eggs on, and the only food monarch caterpillars can eat. People in Bryan and College Station had been taking steps in past years to promote the growth of more of these blooms. But Texas A&M Today’s article notes that in 2020, milkweed appears to be in short supply so far.

The article concluded with a call to action for local gardeners in the Brazos Valley.

“It is critical that citizens plant milkweeds in their gardens to make them ‘monarch friendly’ in the spring along with pollinator plants like lantana and verbena for both spring and fall feeding by adult Monarchs,” Wilson is quoted.

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