This year may be one of the worst for the monarch butterfly, experts are reporting. Severe hailstorms in Mexico (one of the monarch’s major Winter home) followed by fifteen inches of rain has left the population decimated by up to 50 percent this year. Add to that the ongoing issue of habitat destruction, and the future of the monarch begins to look a little shaky.
The monarch population is typically measured by the number of acres of pine trees the butterflies fill in their Mexican wintering habitat. This year, scientists found the smallest area of monarchs overwintering in the 16 years they have been looking–down to 4.7 acres from an average of 18.3 acres.
At the fairy-like weight of a mere .026 oz, these stalwart troopers make the journey from as far as Canada all the way to Mexico–it’s like The Odyssey of the insect world. According to MonarchWatch. org, monarch butterflies cannot survive a long cold winter, unlike most other insects in temperate climates. Instead, they spend the winter in roosting spots–monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains travel to small groves of trees along the California coast, while those east of the Rocky Mountains fly farther south to the forests high in the mountains of Mexico.
No other butterflies migrate like North American monarchs. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, round trip migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Part of the problem monarchs are facing is the longevity of the trees within which they roost: Illegal logging in Mexico has destroyed the butterflies’ mountain habitats, while property development in California threatens the eucalyptus trees where they roost there.
In addition to habitat issues and the increasingly severe weather, such as that which the butterflies are facing this year, there has also been a significant increase of planting corn and soybean crops that are genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant. This allows farmers to use weed killer without hurting the crops, but it also means that little of the monarch’s beloved milkweed is left. No milkweed means no place for the butterflies to breed along the way, a crucial step, obviously, in the survival of the species.
Visit Monarchwatch. org to find out what you can do to help. For more ways to help butterflies see First Aid for Butterflies, and How to Make Butterfly Food.
is an awesome website that will send you a packet of free milkweed seeds to start growing now-- they ask at least a $3.00 donation for the seed. You can also order already grown milkweed plants that they will ship to you. There are two kinds of milkweed they send-- the type for tropical warmer climates and the type that grows in the colder zones.
They also sell butterfly larvae kits to hatch your own monarch butterflies after the milkweed has grown -- and they sell live monarch butterflies and painted lady butterflies you can let loose at social functions and weddings. I like that idea better than throwing rice.
Everything they grow is grown organically-- no herbicides or pesticides ---which are part of the assault problem against butterflies and honey bees in general.
With this upcoming next paycheck, I am going to be ordering a large batch of milkweed plants and seeds-- then later in May will be ordering larvae so that the vegetation will already have grown some before they get here.
Here is a good recipe found on the Care2 website for home-made butterfly nutrient they can enjoy in a pinch before the nectar flowers start sprouting up:
“We love butterflies! They have lifted human hearts for millennia with their fragile, colorful beauty. There are specific flowers that butterflies love, but what if you don’t have the space or time to grow butterfly-attracting plants? We can make Butterfly Bait! Because not all butterflies are only attracted to flower-nectar, this magic stuff will attract butterflies to your yard, even if all you have is a balcony.
Just wait until you find out the ingredients of Butterfly Bait! They’re not as pretty as the butterflies, that’s for sure–but this magic goop will have White Admirals, Mourning Cloaks, Viceroys and many others flocking to your place. Here’s the formula:
Many butterflies prefer rotting fruit, tree sap, dung, carrion, urine, and other non-nectar sources of nutrients. You can allow fruit from your fruit trees to decay on the ground, leave your pet’s droppings where they lie, or place a bit of raw meat or fish in a discreet part of your garden.
And here is the formula for Butterfly Bait:
1 pound sugar
1 or 2 cans stale beer
3 mashed overripe banana
1 cup of molasses or syrup
1 cup of fruit juice
1 shot of rum
Mix all ingredients well and paint on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps–or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang from a tree-limb.
Adapted from The Butterfly Garden, by Matthew Tekulsky (Harvard Common Press, 1985)
They are the most reasonably priced and they grow their milkweed organically. I just placed an order of 20 milkweed cuttings-- I will be growing them in a pot first, then will be transplanting them later this May/June.
After I have the milkweed grown, I will be ordering butterfly larvea from this same website.
Milkweed is the one native plant Monarch Butterflies depend on for survival. The larvea need the particular nutrients found in this plant, and there is an enzyme that enters the larvae's body that makes them distasteful to birds and other predators. Only the milkweed plant has this protective enzyme.
We have to do something now- each of us who owns our own property needs to plant some milkweed. If you don't have land to grow milkweed- you can grow it in large plastic pots-- the type you find in KMart in thier gardening center- the size you use to pot a fig tree in. Fertilize the soil after 3 months of planting the milkweed cutting -- and fertilize once a year thereafter.
Ladybugs and lacewing buts eat any aphids that may be on the milkweed- but usually when it is grown wild outside, you won't really see aphids on it anyway. The monarch butterfly larvea still uses the milkweed- aphids or not. You can order ladybug growing kits at http://www.insectlore.com
; if you are concerned about aphids in general.
The destruction of Native plants such as milkweed are hurting us more than we realize. If you see any development on land that has native trees or valuable plants like milkweed, ask the developers to give you the uprooted plants after they are finished digging. They will be more than happy to give them to you- as it means less disposal hassle for them. If you have the luxury of a back yard, consider making a section of your yard for Native wild habitat. You can make it look very attractive and add a bird bath, bird feeders, wood garden benches, cobble stone walkway, etc. Weeds are only weeds when left unkempt and uncared for. Apparantly , the Monarch butterfly shows us that Native plants are much more valuable than we realize!