The monarch butterfly is one of the world’s most beloved and recognized butterflies in North America, some say the world. Majestic and beautiful, the monarch displays its distinctive orange and black markings. It doesn’t bite, carry disease or sting. It seems to exist just to delight us.
The monarch butterfly is a complicated creature. They start out in one form and change into a completely different creature by the time they are fully developed. This is called a complete metamorphosis. From egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to beautiful winged creature, all in a short few weeks is a fantastic achievement.
But at this time, the monarch butterfly is in trouble. Researchers from the Xerces Society have labeled the monarch butterfly as “disturbingly low” the number of western monarch butterflies that migrate along the California coast. The Xerces Society conducts an annual Thanksgiving and New year’s count of monarch butterflies that have migrated to the California coast. In 1981, the society counted more than 1 million western monarchs wintering in California, compared to a recent count recording fewer than 30,000 butterflies which is an 86 percent decline.
Pesticides, herbicides, destruction of habitat along their migratory route and loss of milkweed threaten the life of the monarch. Milkweed is the key host plant for the monarch butterfly and is losing ground to newer farming practices.
What many people do not realize is just how important butterflies are as pollinators. For plants, pollination is the sharing of pollen among flowers and is an essential step in producing seeds and reproducing. Plants cannot move about in order to accomplish this transfer of pollen. Approximately 20 percent of flowering plants release and receive their pollen on the wind. That leaves 80 percent, a majority of flowering plants, relying on insects such as bees or butterflies to move their pollen from flower to flower. This is where the butterfly does its job.
The good news is that we can do something to help the monarch butterfly. An even better news is that it isn’t too late.
Grow Milkweed: Though you can’t single-handedly bring back the monarchs, you can make your landscape friendly to monarchs by planting milkweed. Monarch caterpillars are fussy eaters. The only plant monarch caterpillars eat is milkweed. If there is no milkweed, there are no monarchs.
Grow Nectar Plants: Adult monarchs must get all their energy by sipping nectar. Plants to include in your landscape are asters, black-eyed Susan, calendula, coreopsis, purple coneflowers and zinnias, which are particularly nectar-rich.
Create a butterfly habitat: Butterflies need a place to drink and they love mud puddles. Butterflies get much-needed minerals from the soil. Create a few small spaces in bare soil and keep them moist, so butterflies can sip water. Plant trees and shrubs where butterflies can roost at night. Butterflies fly only when they are warm, so place flat rocks that receive sun to warm them up.
Use Pesticide with Care: The well-maintained lawns with not a dandelion in sight have come at a cost. The use of pesticides is threatening the monarch butterfly.
Although monarch butterflies are being threatened you can make a difference and help conserve the monarch butterfly. From a small pot on your front steps to a backyard pollinator garden, there are many ways individuals can provide essential habitat.
Let’s work together to make sure we save this vital species from extinction.
It’ll just take some personal and political willpower – and a lot of milkweed.