Monarch butterflies are outstanding creatures. They are the only insects known to exhibit the same migratory pattern of birds as, they head south for the winter (navigating to the sunny shores of California, central Mexico and Florida). It is a sight to see and is well documented. You can view the journey by visiting this website, www.monarchwatch.org.
While being a fascinating creature on its own, it also contributes to the pollination of our foods. It is estimated that ~75% of food products world wide are available because of globally diverse pollinators. As well as, in the year 2000, 20 billion dollars of the United States economy could be attributed to the insect pollinated crops. (plants.usda.gov)
Along their journey, while pollinating and making their way to their winter homes, the monarchs have upwards of 2 generations born throughout the process. The monarchs stop to rest and lay eggs on and around milkweed which, milkweed, is the only plant that monarch butterfly larvae can eat. Ingesting the milkweed gives larva the toxins (a variety of steroids called cardenolides) it needs to avoid predators. In the monarch larva this is used as a defense mechanism against predatory animals and depletes throughout the monarchs lifespan (8-9 months).
However their food & defense is disappearing. It appears from recent evidence that the monarchs are losing their habitat, leading to a decline in monarch butterfly population. In a quote from StarTribune
This year(2012),…..the butterflies occupied seven acres of trees in their refuge west of Mexico City -- 28 percent less than last year and a fraction of the 45 acres they occupied in 1996, a peak year.
A major factor of milkweed (habitat) destruction the monarchs’ face is farmers use of glyphosate. Which is an herbicide meant to work in conjunction with Roundup Ready Crops. Those being corn and soybean crops. The milkweed is a weed and does take up some real-estate farmers, understandably, would much rather use for their crops. However growing research shows the use of the Roundup Ready Crops does destroy the habitats of monarch butterflies. Other factors such as drought add to the already depleting monarch population.
We might not be able to get farmers to stop using glyphosate but, we can take action. One such way a person can contribute to an increase in population is to plant milkweed. Be it on the side of a road or preferably in a community garden. Monarchs live on both sides of the Rocky Mountains and make their journey’s in every state. And as they do make their journey they are eating and laying eggs. So, no matter where one chooses to plant a milkweed, it will most likely be a much needed helping hand to one of the most fascinating creatures we have the pleasure of sharing our planet with.
Authored by Brian Dodson
Authored by Brian Dodson