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Backyard butterfly gardens help boost return of monarchs

(Elliot Karlan photo / For The Ark)

Five years ago, Tiburon resident Dan Shanks planted milkweed in his garden hoping to attract monarch butterflies. Not much happened. He bought more milkweed a few years later. A few monarchs showed up. Then came this summer, and suddenly his garden is bursting with monarchs in every stage of development.

“There were 70 giant caterpillars (on the milkweed plants), chrysalises hanging off the fences, butterflies just swarming everywhere,” he says. “We were overwhelmed with them.”

(Elliot Karlan photo / For The Ark)

Showy orange and black monarch butterflies do seem to be everywhere this summer: floating over the traffic on Tiburon Boulevard, dancing in the butterfly garden across from the Belvedere-Tiburon Library and laying eggs and hatching into hungry milkweed-loving caterpillars in gardens all across town. The iconic species, feared to be on the verge of extinction, has made a modest comeback, naturalists say, but they have a long way to go before their survival is assured.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” says Isis Howard, an endangered-species conservation biologist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “The recent uptick in western monarch numbers is a step in the right direction but still indicates a severe population decline compared to a few decades ago. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to double-down on our conservation efforts.”

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