If you’ve ever seen a monarch butterfly fluttering by or emerging from a chrysalis, you’ve experienced something special. There is a poetic beauty to these winged wonders, but they are in danger of disappearing. The monarch population has drastically declined due to habitat destruction, disease and pesticide use. Fortunately, there are ways to reverse the trend and give these creatures a solid future.
The Monarch’s Predicament
These small but tough insects travel more than 2,000 miles during their epic migrations between Canada and Mexico. In the autumn, millions of monarch butterflies head south, and they return north in the springtime to reproduce. The females die after laying their eggs, and the new generation repeats the cycle and embarks on the same remarkable journey searching for the ultimate monarch butterfly habitat.
As a survival strategy, monarch caterpillars feed solely on milkweed, which contains chemicals that make the butterflies toxic to predators. Females won’t lay their eggs on anything but milkweed as well. This is one of the most problematic monarch butterfly facts, because the plant is quickly disappearing from the landscape. Land development, the overuse of poisonous pesticides and the purposeful destruction of the plants make it difficult for monarchs to complete their life cycles.
A Brighter Future for Monarch Butterflies
You can help save the monarch butterfly by planting milkweed in your own backyard. It’s best to choose locally grown seeds for your live butterfly garden. Varieties to look for in the Northeast include common, swamp, whorled and poke milkweed. In the Southwest, plant some white, sandhill, aquatic or whorled milkweed. The antelopehorns and zizotes species are native to the South Central region, and the showy and Mexican whorled species are indigenous in the West.
By adding milkweed and other butterfly garden plants to your yard, you’ll be creating a welcoming haven. Bring in some nectar-rich plant life, including zinnias, asters and black-eyed Susans. Complete the habitat by creating small puddles of water in the soil for the butterflies to drink from. Once you understand how to make a butterfly garden that is inviting, you’ll be amazed at how many fluttering guests come to visit.
RESOURCE: Directory of milkweed seed vendors to get the right seeds for your garden.
The Monarch Conservation Program
There are numerous initiatives across the country that focus on protecting the monarch population. One of the most prevalent programs was initiated by Dan Ashe, the director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Collaborating with the National Wildlife Federation, Ashe promotes the recovery of monarch habitats. Through his Save the Monarch Project, he encourages people to build butterfly gardens rich with the milkweed these creatures desperately need.
The milkweed plant is slowly being eradicated, and the monarchs are fading away with it. The good news is that neither has to disappear completely. By designing your own monarch butterfly garden, you can preserve the breeding ground, shelter and sole source of food for these black and orange beauties. With very little effort, you’ll be contributing to the long-term survival of the gorgeous monarch.
– Dan Ashe, director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. www.fws.gov/savethemonarch