Monarch butterflies take an awe inspiring journey from southern Canada to central Mexico every year. On this epic 3,000 mile adventure, this beautiful, gem like creature flits softly through our neighborhoods, parks, and backyards.
But according to the 2018 Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, the number of western monarchs dropped 86% over the previous year.
According to National Geographic, a farmer warned bug specialist Chip Taylor of the destruction of this species as early as 2004. New crop varities and agricultural practices are wiping out milkweed in rural areas. Housing development, drought, and gardening practices are eliminating milkweed in suburban and urban areas.
Monarch butterflies are irresistably drawn to milkweed because monarch catepillars only eat milkweed. If their eggs are laid on other plants, the caterpillars will have nothing to eat, they will starve, and die. Female monarchs need to find patches of milkweed to lay their eggs for the catepillars to survive.
Monarchs can make a come back with your help if you plant milkweed native to your area and avoid using pesticides. You can put milkweed in strategic places in your yard, grow milkweed in pots on your apartment balcony, and provide a place for monarchs to thrive.
If enough patches of milkweed exist, they can form an interconnected web between natural areas, rural regions, and urban development. These pollinator pit stops will provide food and habitat for monarchs and many other pollinators.
One innovative program Monarchs in the Rough provides support to golf course superintendents so that they can create habitat for monarchs on golf courses.
Some people express concern about milkweed. While milkweed has “weed” in its name, it’s a wildflower native to the United States and it’s not classified as a noxious weed. The white milky sap does contain toxins called cardiac glycosides. Monarchs use it to make a bitter tasting substance that keeps predators from eating them.
Coming into contact with milkweed can cause rashes on your skin. Eating a salad made from milkweed will make you sick. So wash your hands, don’t eat it, and don’t let your pets or children eat it.
Monarchs can make a comeback with thoughtful effort, handfuls of seed, and a commitment to saving these incredible creatures.