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Researchers Track Monarch Butterfly Decline; here’s how you can help

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — One of our nation’s most popular insects is in trouble — the monarch butterfly.

As caterpillars, monarchs have only one food source – milkweed – and this plant does not take up as much space as it once did.

“Unfortunately, milkweed is becoming less and less available,” said Michael Lewis, clean air and water advocate for Environment Texas.

Milkweeds are eliminated for several reasons: one is the increased use of pesticides

“I don’t think a lot of people plant it,” said self-proclaimed nerd Rebecca Zerlin.

Her more formal title is Graduate Research Assistant at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Zerlin and other researchers around the world observe a pattern that shows insect populations declining due to climate change and pesticides.

“I’m looking at how prescribed burning affects butterflies in South Texas,” Zerlin said. “Engraving is such a useful tool. This can help clear old, dead vegetation and pave the way for new vegetation to grow.

Growth is also occurring in downtown Kingsville, in the Xeriscape Garden at 206 E. Yoakum Ave. Kingsville is a monarch city.

“The city has just been certified, I mean, within the last two years,” Zerlin said. “We have quite a few butterfly gardens all over the city.”

Milkweed is a must-have for a do-it-yourself butterfly garden.

“Every year around this time we get a lot of calls for milkweed,” said Trent Hoffman of Bay Area Landscape Nursery, as he stood in front of his display of butterfly weed. “We sell a lot of them because people like butterflies.”

The plants were shipped from South Dallas to Corpus Christi. They are one of the only weeds to be hot sellers. Hoffman tries to keep them stocked throughout the season.

“You don’t usually want things to eat your plants, but in this case, that’s a good thing,” he said.

Customers only need a $10 bill to save an elegant creature from collapsing.

“I see it as a plant that is actually useful and actually helps the environment,” he said. “You know, it kind of keeps the cycle of life going.”

According to monarchwatch.org, there are 73 species of milkweed native to the United States; many are rare, threatened and endangered. And now the US Fish and Wildlife Service is pushing for a Texas-owned species – called prostrate milkweed – to be added to the endangered species list.

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