Monarch butterflies take an awe inspiring journey from southern Canada to central Mexico every year. On this epic 3,000 mile adventure, these beautiful, gem like creatures flit 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 entomologist Chip Taylor of the destruction of this species as early as 2004. New crop varities and agricultural practices are wiping out butterfly habitat in rural areas. Housing development, drought, and gardening practices are eliminating butterfly habitat and introducing pesticides in suburban and urban areas.
Climate change has had a negative impact on monarchs and many other species. Current research suggests that higher midwinter temperatures may cause monarch butterflies to breed off season in California. The big step we all need to take is to reduce our dependence on burning fossil fuels and stop creating carbon pollution.
Habitat loss is significant problem. Monarch butterflies are 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.
You can put native milkweed in strategic places in your yard, grow it in pots on your apartment balcony, and provide a place for monarchs to thrive. If you plant milkweed, make sure it’s native to your area and avoid using pesticides. Planting non-native milkweed from other regions may actually cause more problems than it solves. You can also plant nectar rich wildflowers, especially those that bloom in early Spring (February-April) and the Fall (September-October), to provide food for monarchs.
If enough patches of native milkweed and pollinator friendly plants exist, they can reinforce the interconnected web between natural areas, rural regions, and urban development. These pit stops will provide food and habitat for monarchs as well as many other pollinators.
City, county, and state governments need to restore, protect, and support monarch breeding grounds, overwintering sites, and migratory paths. You can contact your local governments to get involved in efforts to save the monarchs.
One innovative program Monarchs in the Rough provides support to golf course superintendents so that they can create habitat for monarchs on golf courses. Programs like this one may exist in your area.
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, restoration of habitat, and a commitment to saving these incredible creatures.