OUTDOORS: Scientists seek help tracking monarch butterflies

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists are asking for the public’s help in monitoring monarch butterflies.
Since monitoring of wintering monarch butterfly populations in the Mexican states of Michoacan and Mexico began in 1993, the World Wildlife Fund has documented a decline in such activity – reaching an all-time low last winter.
Monarch decline has been attributed to factors including illegal logging, extreme weather conditions in wintering and breeding grounds and a decline in milkweed abundance here in Texas.
Biologists from the TPWD Wildlife Diversity Program recently launched a project to explore Texas milkweed – determining where it is, how much is out there and are monarchs using it.
The project arose from concerns that herbicide-resistant crops are resulting in an increased use of herbicide to control weeds and a loss of milkweed in that region.
Loss of milkweed is significant since it is the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat.
The project is housed on the Internet application iNaturalist.org, a platform researchers are using who ask for citizen assistance in supporting their work.
When people see milkweed in their travels, they can take a photograph, add it to the project and answer four questions stemming from your observation.
They do not even have to know any of the more than 40 species of milkweed found in Texas.
Through the project, the Wildlife Diversity Program hopes to produce a map showing where milkweed is found in Texas, what species of milkweed people are finding, whether it is natural or cultivated, and if monarchs are using it. Patterns in agricultural areas and urban communities will be examined.
For information, see the Texas Milkweeds and Monarchs project website on iNaturalist.org.

Monarch butterfly. (Courtesy photo by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)