Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida News

Florida's Monarchs On the Move

Photo: ©Tom & Pat Lesson

ST. MARKS, FL– Florida neighborhoods will be invaded by Halloween costumes of all sorts on Friday, including the ever-popular butterfly costume. But real-life butterflies - namely monarchs on their annual migration from the north to Mexico - arrived later than normal this year at their migration stop at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge.

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"Normally, they would start showing up after the first couple of good, strong cold fronts move through the area," said Robin Will, a supervisory ranger at the refuge. "This year, for some reason, they waited until Friday to show up, which was really late."

A warming climate and a decrease in the availability of some favorite monarch food such as milkweed are believed to be some factors contributing to the shift.

Earlier this year, three conservation organizations asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species since its population has declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years.

Kent Wimmer, a northwest Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the Monarch butterfly is a very visual example of the impact of humans on the environment.

"In this area," he said, "it's one of those charismatic species that draw attention to both climate change and changing land uses which have affected their populations."

Will agreed that the insects are just as valuable as a reminder of how delicate nature can be as they are a visually distinctive species in the ecosystem.

"Sometimes people can't see birds," she said, "but when they see those monarch butterflies feeding on their plants and they can stand right in front of them and watch them without binoculars, that is a huge educational message."

Will said the refuge just hosted its annual Monarch Butterfly Festival, where researchers were able to tag 600 butterflies for observation, down from an average of 800 in prior years.

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