King of the Butterflies…the Monarch
The reason I’m writing this blog is to bring awareness to the plight of the monarch, a very serious situation and ask for help to prevent the extinction of this harmless and beautiful little creature. Sadly, their numbers have decreased by 90% over the past 20 years.
Let’s start at the very beginning
The monarch is a milkweed butterfly. What does this mean? In March and April eggs are laid on milkweed plants. About 4 days later, the eggs hatch into baby caterpillars which feed on the milkweed, its primary food source, to survive and thrive. About 2 weeks later the caterpillars are fully grown and find stems or leaves to attach themselves to using silk from the milkweed. This process, metamorphosis, goes on for about 10 days until the monarch butterfly emerges from the cocoon and flies away.
This picture shows the monarch butterfly in his cocoon just 6 minutes before emerging. Look closely…you can make out his little wings.
The first generation of monarchs live only 2-6 weeks feeding off flowers until it’s time to lay their eggs in milkweed to start the next generation that will be born in May or June.
Did you know…
The monarch butterfly travels up to 2,500 miles in it’s generational trip which starts in Mexico. Some travel as far north as central and eastern Canada, stopping along the way to lay eggs. Each generation completes its “leg” of the trip in 2-6 weeks where they stop to lay eggs for the next generation. The 4th generation of monarchs lives up to 8 months spending the last 2 months of their short lives flying south to southern California and even Mexico…traveling as much as 80 miles a day.
It’s a migration marathon and their food of choice…milkweed.
For those that make it to Mexico, there is the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve where the trees protect these fragile creatures from the elements as they huddle together to stay warm. They’ll stay here in the trees until the cycle starts all over again.
So, why the decline?
As mentioned earlier, the monarch population has declined 90% over the past 20 years. This is equivalent to every person in the US dying with the exception of people living in Ohio and Florida. Puts it in a whole different perspective, doesn’t it?
As farmers in the mid west cultivate more land for agriculture, the milkweed plants are destroyed in the process. A lack of milkweed, which is critical to the monarch’s survival, is why their numbers are disappearing. The milkweed provides nectar on their travels and it’s the only plant they can lay their eggs on.
Discovered and developed by Monsanto, glyphosate was brought to the market under the trade name “Roundup” in 1974. Glyphosate, is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds and grasses that compete with crops. The main ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate. By 2007, glyphosate was the most used herbicide in US agriculture and the second most used herbicide by government, commercial and home use. Sadly, I must admit, I have a spray bottle of Roundup in my barn and have used it to kill weeds in my crushed stone and slate walkways for years.
Glyphosate is also used to clear milkweed plants along roads, highways and railroad beds. And it’s used by cities and towns on sidewalks to eliminate grasses and weeds that grow in the cracks. By 2010, it had been approved for use in 130 countries.
Did you know…
Since 2007, milkweed has been commercially harvested as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows. Milkweed’s fibers are used to clean up oil spills and used to manufacture thermal and acoustic insulation.
Time for legislation and action
- As of May, 2014, legislature of The Netherlands passed legislation banning glyphosate for home use.
- In 2015, El Salvador approved legislation to ban glyphosate altogether.
- Also in 2015, the President of Sri Lanka banned the import and use of glyphosate effective immediately.
- And in 2015, Bermuda blocked importation.
- In June of 2015, the French Ecology Minister asked nurseries and garden centers to halt over the counter sales of glyphosate, as the main ingredient of an herbicide.
In come the lawyers…
In 2015, the natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the EPA. Their claim being the EPA ignored warnings about the dangers of the chemical and its affect on the monarch butterfly.
Hopefully, some good news for the tiny travelers
After years of decline, the monarch numbers seem to be on the rebound thanks to changes in legislature and bans on glyphosate. Reports from the World Wildlife Fund state that the numbers of monarch butterflies that are wintering in Mexico are greater than last year. Let’s hope this growth continues.
What can you and I do to help?
Milkweed, or Asclepias, is an essential food source for butterflies and bees. So, let’s pay it forward for these little pollinators…plant milkweed in your garden to help them in their journey through North America and Canada. There are about 38 different species of milkweed. Plant other nectar plants such as Bee Balm, Butterfly Bush, violets, Veronica Blue Mountains, Salvia Sensation Rose and of course, Lily plants. Butterflies, as well as bees and hummingbirds, are attracted to bright colors like red, pink, yellow, orange and purple.
…and what about farmers?
I try to purchase produce at my local farmers’ markets and organic farm stands…as much as I can. While I realize commercial farmers are a whole different ball game, I just wonder…could milkweed be planted around the perimeter of commercial gardens? Wouldn’t that be a start?
Keep in mind...where glyphosate has accumulated in the soil over time, we are eating it too, and it’s too early to see what the long term affects are to humans, other mammals, fowl and aquatic life. Think about that. It makes me want to just scream…What the H— are we doing?? It seems that all too often, profit motive wins over common sense.
Check this out… www.LiveMonarch.com where you can purchase Butterfly Garden seeds. For every $1.00 you commit to spend, this organization will send you 50+ seeds appropriate for your area and growing season. OR…you can request specific plants. When you go on the site, hover over “Help Save the Monarchs” and then click on “Plant a Seed Program”.
Support the plight of the monarch butterfly and plant milkweed seeds and other butterfly plants all over your yard. You’ll not only beautify your living space but you’ll be helping these beautiful little pollinators while on their travels. Give butterfly garden seeds as gifts…the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. Share and forward this blog to friends, neighbors, people in your book club, that cute guy down the street and don’t forget your co-workers.
Just like the Bayer product mentioned in my blog “A Honey of a Retraction”, other countries are stepping forward and legislating bans…but I ask…where is the United States of America? WAKE UP GUYS… GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF THE SAND AND DO SOMETHING BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
Together…we can make something amazing happen.
Eat well, my little friend…there will be lots more nectar flowers to enjoy on your next journey north…stay safe.
⇒ Click here to read my blog A Honey of a Retraction where I discuss the plight of the honey bee. Please read this as it will prove a definite correlation between the two and will make you stop dead in your tracks…and think.