Where are the butterflies?

Asked July 13, 2020, 10:43 AM EDT

I have a "weed" garden in Cecil County with about 80% native plants including Joe Pye weed, Butterfly weed and common milkweed. Last year in June I had hundreds of Swallowtails. The Monarchs arrived in July (although not many) and I even had some Red Spotted Purples in August. I have had Monarchs successfully mature. I have not seen ANY of the big butterflies and less than half a dozen small white ones and two small yellow ones. I did an informal poll of my Facebook Friends and they all responded that they have not seen any butterflies either. Where are they? I made a new, more formal, garden for them with the various milkweed plants plus coneflowers, garden phlox and bee balm to name a few. It's ready and waiting for them. Attached is a picture from last year, taken by my front porch and a picture of larva taken July 25, 2019.

Cecil County Maryland

1 Response


Thank you for your question. We are getting a lot of questions like yours this year.

The multiple late frosts this year certainly could have played a role in hampering pollinators this year - some are more resilient to cold than others once they emerge from winter dormancy. Additionally, predator-prey interactions can be at work, where some years populations boom or bust based on how well their predators (or parasitoids) have fared. There are naturally-occurring pathogens, like insect-infecting fungi, which may have prospered in the wet, cool conditions of this spring's weather (and the past few springs). The persistent background pressures of pesticide use, habitat loss, climate change, and introduced pests (both as direct competitors, pathogens, or predators, and indirect as resource destroyers) all play a role in the chronic decline of pollinators and other insects.