The Monarch Butterfly was added Sept. 1 in the category ‘endangered’ to the province’s list of species at risk.
“By being on Nova Scotia’s endangered species list it’s afforded more protection under the law,” said Amanda Lavers, executive director of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute where the Monarch has been a subject of research and threat mitigation for many years.
She said that while the Monarch is already on the federal list, she expects its status on that list will go from ‘Special Concern’ to a higher level this fall.
Nova Scotia is a summering area for the Monarch, and they breed here, but the numbers globally aren’t huge, said species at risk biologist Donald Sam who works for the Department of Natural Resources in Kentville.
The Monarch’s overwintering grounds in Mexico are threatened and that makes the species threatened globally, Sam said.
“Every jurisdiction that has Monarchs should be doing a little bit towards patching together the overall population,” he said. “So that’s what Nova Scotia chose to do.”
He said what Nova Scotia is doing may look like a drop in the bucket but that every drop counts -- and it brings awareness.
“Many people in the province do know that Monarchs are threatened globally, but there are many who do not,” he said. “By doing our little, small bit we’re elevating the general awareness of the population for the species as a whole.”
Sam said being on the endangered species list allows the province to better manage for those species.
“If they’re not formally protected in any way we can’t really compel people do anything about changing their ways,” he said. “But if they’re on that list it gives you a little bit more leverage to manage them.”
Under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act and the National Accord, government is committed to working with national and local partners to ensure the protection of endangered species across Nova Scotia and Canada, the department said in a media release Sept. 1.
According to the Department of Natural Resource’s website, the Monarch Butterfly has experienced a 90 per cent decrease in numbers since the 1990s.
“It faces multiple threats most notably disruption of unique forested mountain areas in Mexico where most of the global population overwinters, and habitat loss in summer breeding areas in Canada and the United States,” the site notes.
The increased use of industrial herbicides in North America has depleted habitat for breeding Monarch butterflies, DNR said.
And when it comes to the Monarch, native swamp milkweed and the introduced common milkweed are essential adult breeding habitat and larval food sources in Nova Scotia.
What To Do?
“There are lots of things people can do for Monarchs,” said Lavers. “It’s one of the few at risks that it’s easiest for us to come up with a list of things to do.”
Because they are such long distance migrators, and depend on one kind of plant it’s relatively simple – make sure there is milkweed.
“That makes it more clear what people can do,” said Lavers. “We can support agricultural practices like organic local farming, that don’t destroy milkweed habitat. In Nova Scotia we have the swamp milkweed as our native milkweed and it grows typically along rivers and wetlands, sometimes along lakeshores. So we can also try to keep those areas wild, but we’ve already lost a lot of that kind of habitat.”
MTRI has a Butterfly Club, and with their partners are encouraging people to create new habitat in their gardens.
“Monarchs are pretty adaptable, and you can plant milkweed … one year and by the next summer it can be in bloom and if you’re lucky you can have Monarchs. This year has been a great year in Nova Scotia. We’ve been getting all kinds of reports of people who successfully created butterfly gardens and actually have Monarch caterpillars and Monarch adults in them. “
This summer the Butterfly Club’s goal was to plant 1,000 milkweed plants across Nova Scotia. Lavers prefers the non-noxious native swamp milkweed, and on the club’s website it’s noted that the other kind, common milkweed, is a noxious weed in Nova Scotia.
She encourages backyard butterfly gardens.
“Both types of milkweed are the preferred food plant of Monarch caterpillars,” the Butterfly Club’s website explains. “Adults will lay their eggs on milkweed leaves, and the larvae (which hatch from the egg a few days after being laid) will feed on the leaves. There is a certain poison (a glycoside) that is present in the leaves, which the caterpillar can tolerate. Because the poison builds up in their bodies, any birds that eat them will get sick. This way, birds learn to avoid eating monarch caterpillars and adults.”
“We’re really encouraged about what’s happening there,” said Lavers in reference to the club. “We’ve been working over the last 10 years with thousands of people who have planted milkweed in their backyards and have been able to do something really tangible for species at risk. We encourage people not to use pesticides in their gardens because that doesn’t help any pollinators including Monarchs.”
Modify Your Shopping
Not everyone can grow a butterfly garden.
“If you live in an apartment building and you don’t have access to a garden and can’t do that sort of thing you can just try to modify what you’re doing at the grocery store to help them (Monarchs) out, because agricultural practices in Mexico have a direct impact on Monarch Butterflies on their wintering grounds.”
The Butterfly Club has been working with various nurseries across Annapolis and Queens counties as sources for milkweed and other plants for butterfly gardens, including:
-- Cosby's Garden Centre near Liverpool
-- Blomidon Garden Centre near Wolfville
-- Thexton's near Annapolis Royal
Community butterfly gardens have been created at:
-- Jubilee Park in Bridgetown with the municipality and local members of
Annapolis Garden Club
-- A community garden with Sarah Hiltz in Berwick
-- A community garden with Sarah Hiltz in Oakdene Park, Kentville
-- North Queens Aquatic Centre in Caledonia
For more information go to:
Besides the Monarch Butterfly, 10 other species were added to Nova Scotia's list of species at risk:
-- bank swallow- endangered
-- gypsy cuckoo bumble bee- endangered
-- tall beakrush- endangered
-- transverse lady beetle- endangered
-- evening grosbeak- special concern
-- yellow-banded bumble bee- special concern
-- black foam lichen- threatened
-- eastern waterfan- threatened
-- Sable Island sweat bee- threatened
-- wrinkled shingle lichen- threatened
This brings the total number of species on the list to 71.
Did you know?
Stewardship biologists at Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute and Parks Canada created the Butterfly Club to encourage local people to grow gardens with swamp milkweed, a non-noxious weed, that is beneficial to Monarch Butterflies.
When they join, members have to sign an agreement that gardens will only be grown further than 20 meters from major roads (to avoid road-kill), and that pesticides and herbicides will not be used (to avoid harm to insects).