Photo: What is orange, flutters and was mysteriously absent from Canada this summer?

(Credit: Tin Can Forest)

You may have noticed something missing this summer. A little something that flits through your neighbourhood like a self-propelled orange and black flower: the monarch butterfly.

Very few of these iconic butterflies made it to Canada this summer. Biologists estimate the North American monarch population declined by about 80 per cent this year, the lowest numbers in 20 years.

Each fall, monarchs make a remarkable journey over thousands of kilometres from Canada to Mexico and California.

This year far fewer monarchs will make the trip.

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Why are the numbers so low? Scientists aren't entirely sure. But in Mexico, the forests where they spend their winters are still being cut, despite efforts to halt logging. And in the United States and Canada, the amount of milkweed in our fields, wetlands and green spaces has steadily declined. Milkweed is the primary food source for monarch larvae. Without it, the species is not likely to survive.

What can we do about the mysterious decline of the monarchs?

The best thing is to plant more milkweed and nectar-producing native flowers, like wild bergamot, New England aster, and black-eyed Susans — especially ones with yellow, pink, orange and purple flowers.

Adding these plants to our gardens, balconies, parks and green spaces will help the monarchs stay healthy and well-fed. Find out more about how to create your own butterfly garden here.

We encourage you to dig in. Plant milkweed and nectar-producing flowers in your yard or on your balcony. Get involved in local naturalization projects. Encourage people at your local parks and schools to do likewise. Help ensure that our summers will continue to be filled with orange and black flittering and fluttering.

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