Butterflies may be common, but I’ve always found myself stopping for a better view when one flutters by. And despite how many species there are, you know a monarch butterfly when you see one.
These well-known butterflies are declining by alarming rates: populations are down between 50 percent and an astonishing 90 percent at different points in the United States, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, and there are a number of factors pointing to their decline. By curbing habitat loss (of winter roosting spots, summer mating locations, and migration routes), pesticide poisoning, and climate change, we can help reverse the decline in our own backyards.
Monarchs, or Danaus plexippus, can be found throughout the United States depending on the season. Most of them perform a yearly migration thousands of miles from their winter homes in southern Canada, through California to their summer haunts in the Mexican mountains. Monarch butterflies are also the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and West Virginia. Their orange and black markings—mimicked by Viceroy butterflies—stand out to warn would-be predators that they’re bad-tasting and poisonous due to their consumption of the essential milkweed.
Sticking Up for Monarchs
A number of citizen action groups and researchers are coming together to study and increase populations of this insect figurehead across its natural habitats. Monarch Joint Venture is the leading nonprofit connecting many other non-government organizations (NGOs) through this common cause. The University of Minnesota, meanwhile, hosts a Monarch Lab that studies the butterfly and encourages individuals to monitor and plant gardens for them whenever they can. There are many opportunities for you to add to your knowledge about monarch butterflies by reporting sightings and helping track their migration and emergence. It’s even been requested that the monarch and its habitat be protected under Endangered Species Act. Presidents of the United States, Canada, and Mexico have all agreed monarchs need our help, and that they’ll work together for this beautiful bug.
A Homemade Habitat
Your own butterfly garden is perhaps the most effective way you can help these tiny orange and black travelers get flying again. Planting milkweed is critical to the monarch life cycle; eggs are laid on this weed exclusively, and it is the caterpillar’s only real source of nourishment. Adults harvest the nectar from the plant’s flowers, as well. When forming this habitat, choose a location in your garden with sufficient sunlight and shelter from wind. And although you might use pesticides when harvesting your own produce, keep away from them in this garden, as they can harm butterflies during all portions of their lifetime. There are many varieties of the plant, but selecting those that are native to your region can do the most good for the critters who survive well through them in your climate. Plant as many as you can, then encourage your friends and family to do the same!
The monarch butterfly is on the decline, but it’s an issue homeowners can truly do something about. By using fewer pesticides and planting specifically for a monarch habitat, we can all lower our carbon footprint, curb climate change, and slow the monarch’s endangerment all at the same time.
Image source: morgueFile
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