the way it was in suburban habitats

Richard Worth rworth at
Mon Jan 14 13:39:35 EST 2002

I know what you are talking about.  I grew up in San Jose during the 
wonder years of the 70's and there were many more butterflies around 
even then.  I noticed species in our yard that you have to be in the 
hills to find now, like coronis frits and chalcedon checkerspots. 
Looking back, in the short period of time from the early 70's to the 
late 80's, I noticed a huge drop in numbers of butterflies.  The 
lemon bushes across the street regularly had Monarchs in numbers in 
the spring and summer, as well as cardui, zelicaon and others and 
LOTS of healthy honey bees.  There was a favorite collecting spot my 
dad and I used to go off of Page Mill Rd. in Palo Alto...yeah, Palo 
Alto, the center of Computersville and expensive upscale housing.  It 
was a small dirt rd that went down to a foot path that ran along a 
small stream.  We found a good percentage of the common species from 
the Bay area in this one location.  That small dirt now a 
driveway and the site has been destroyed.  The Monarchs used to fill 
the sky over at the beach in the fall.  There were also a great many 
Gulf Frits around the passion vines.  The trees were loaded, even 
then, compared with today's numbers.  A very visible decline.  It 
seems the beginning of the end in California was around 1980.  Giant 
corporations and big business were encouraged under a new, 
environmentally unfriendly administration, the electronics industry 
exploded with the budding computer technologies, Medfly was found and 
systematically sprayed by helicopter with Malathion,  and the people 
came in droves.  As Barb said, even one of the Natural bridges 
collapsed during a violent winter storm in the 80's.  I can remember 
when all the fish in the Los Gatos creek were floating belly up.  I 
think Ron was right, money was the new god.  Though young, I then 
understood why the Indian was crying in that commercial a few years 


>Paul and the rest on leps-l
>Maybe in the last few years you have seen what you consider to be lots of
>Monarchs overwintering in the area but believe me it is nothing like the
>numbers that were there in the 40s and 50s.  My father-in-law was a ranger
>at Natural Bridges and my husband worked there some as a kid.  Of course at
>that time Natural Bridges still had the bridges and Santa Cruz was still
>miles away from the park.  We are talking about a time when California still
>only had a few million inhabitants, crystal clear air and a lot of the San
>Joaquin valley floor that was still in Oak Grass Woodland and rivers and
>streams that had not been enclosed in concrete.  The agriculture practices
>at the time were far different from the "better living through chemistry"
>agriculture practiced on our ranch today.
>The "hordes" of Monarch you see today are pitiful remnants of what flocked
>to the wintering trees in those times.  Ten years ago we visited my home
>state and Jim went to some of the parks he knew as a kid.  The docent that
>guided us to the butterfly trees in Natural Bridges excitedly prepared us
>for what we were to see by explaining how this was by far the best butterfly
>year that had had.  We were astounded to see only a few branches of the
>trees with butterflies... Grandpas photos showed trees completely covered
>with butterflies.  She was not prepared for the looks on our faces when we
>saw how few butterflies were on the trees.
>No Paul - things are not surviving as well as you would like to pretend with
>our development.  Are the current numbers of Monarchs adequate to maintain
>the species - probably but we have certainly decreased their numbers.
>As much as suburban sprawl has decreased the natural habitat  expanding
>agriculture to feed the people of this planet has probably taken a far
>greater toll.  Even agricultural practices have changed for the worse for
>butterflies.  One can only imagine the undocumented wetland dependent
>species that have disappeared in the state as it lost most of its wetlands.
>The gardens around the house on our ranch are still there.  As a child in
>the 40s I remember the great number of butterflies.  A few I could identify
>with a child's butterfly book.  The book explained how to differentiate the
>Monarch and Viceroy.  We had both.  The house was surrounded by olive
>orchards under which was planted a cover crop - something like peas or
>turnips.  Large areas of undeveloped valley floor Oak-grass woodland were
>also near by as was our "swamp" - huge oaks covered by large vines (those
>vines were collected by school kids and used in the original Tarzan movies).
>The swamp is drained except for a postage size portion set aside by the
>Nature Conservatory and that does not appear to be getting the water it
>naturally got to survive.  The olive and orange orchards are still there but
>herbicides kill anything green under the trees and the young orange trees
>which have been planted are sprayed every several weeks for thrips.  The
>roadsides which used to harbour wildflowers (weeds) are now sprayed with
>herbicide to keep weeds from entering the orchards.  Jim and I found 5
>species of butterfly in the area when we were there for several days a
>couple years ago.  The gardens around the house yielded only Fiery Skippers
>and one Anise Swallowtail.  We went to the Nature Conservancy plot and
>worked along the St. Johns River checking the riparian area.  This yielded
>three more butterflies of three species.  One was a cabbage and I have to
>look up notes to see the other two.  These were the results we obtained for
>about 15 hours of stalking these critters.  I do not think that even you
>would consider this the diversity of butterflies we should have found in
>this area.  This is what is hanging on.
>As far as I know there is no record of what was in this area when I was a
>kid.  Grandpa had photos and I am sure others had those of the butterflies
>at those times in Natural Bridges.  I have asked Jims sister for the photos
>but so far she has not found them. I see that Viceroys are not even on the
>map of California in that area.  Does anybody even know their former range
>in the state?  That is why the Becks push people in our adopted province to
>get out and try to document what we have here in Alberta, that is why
>Alberta holds more butterfly counts than any other area of North America.
>That is why even though I really hate to collect a butterfly and count
>mainly with binoculars, I also carry a net to make sure of some difficult id
>and take specimens when absolutely necessary of those which need further
>study.  I send them to qualified  people who are willing to work on them.
>People do not realize how fast an area can change.  The population of
>Alberta is about what the population of California was when I was a kid.
>Barbara Beck
>Adjunct Professor
>Department of Renewable Resources
>University of Alberta
>Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
>-----Original Message-----
>From: owner-leps-l at [mailto:owner-leps-l at]On
>Behalf Of Paul Cherubini
>Sent: January 11, 2002 5:52 AM
>To: leps-l at
>Subject: Butterflies in manicured suburban habitats
>Ron wrote:
>  > I bet a lot of people in the Keys area who want to see
>  > the cute little blue protected are unknowingly killing them
>  > off by making sure the ugly Balloon Vine stays off their
>  > yard's fence, golf course, highway right of way, and any
>  > where else that might ugly up the renowned manicured look
>  > most of south Florida loves.
>I agree Ron, in regard to the Miami Blue. Some other kinds of
>butterflies, however, manage to do fine in manicured suburban
>landscapes. Below, for example, are some photos I took a few
>weeks ago (Dec. 26) at the famous monarch overwintering site
>in Pacific Grove, California.
>150 years ago relatively few humans lived in Pacific Grove and the
>monarchs overwinterered in undeveloped Monterey Pine forests
>that looked approximately like this:
>In recent decades, Pacific Grove has been completely built out
>yet the butterflies still come and "butterfly zone" signs are placed in
>the streets:
>The monarchs cluster on the limbs of pine trees situated right
>above the roofs of residential homes:
>Here is a closer view of the butterflies clustering above the same roof
>as in the last photo:
>The monarchs also cluster in Australian eucalyptus trees
>growing in the residential backyards of Pacific Grove:
>Monarchs find an ample supply of nectar in the yards of the homes
>and businesses of Pacific Grove:
>Monarchs bask on the roofs and siding of the homes.
>Here a front porch hanging planter has lots of monarchs:
>Monarchs also obtain drinking water from the overnight dew
>that developes on residential lawns:
>Based on this evidence, I think it is reasonable to conclude the
>original forests where monarchs overwinter can be radically altered
>and developed without significant harm to the butterflies. Also it
>seems obvious that overwintering monarchs can coexist with
>intense human activity around them.
>Butterfly conservation organizations don't see it this way. For some
>unknown reason they are unwilling to publicly acknowledge that
>real estate developement and other forms of intense human activity
>are compatible with monarch overwintering.  Instead, they view
>real estate development and human activity as a serious threat to the
>overwintering monarchs.
>Example: Dr. O.R. (Chip) Taylor  says:
>"Monarch populations are even more vulnerable in their overwintering
>sites.  In the coastal forests, Monarchs find forests with all the
>right characteristics for overwintering. Many people, however,
>would also like to live along the California coast, which raises
>property values and increases the pressure to build, remove
>trees, and otherwise develop the land. Although there has
>been some progress towards protecting Monarch overwintering
>sites in California, high property values and the resulting pressure to
>develop land along the coast continue to threaten Monarch habitat."
>In February this year I will be going to the monarch overwintering
>sites in Mexico and hope to come back with alot of good photos
>of the monarch situation down there.
>Paul Cherubini
>Placerville, Calif.
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>    For subscription and related information about LEPS-L visit:
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>    For subscription and related information about LEPS-L visit:

Richard A. Worth
Oregon Department of Agriculture
Plant Division
rworth at
(503) 986-6461
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Type: text/enriched
Size: 11389 bytes
Desc: not available
Url : 

More information about the Leps-l mailing list