As you may have heard, the majestic monarch butterfly is in danger. The once common sight of these beautiful orange and black butterflies flitting around our backyards is now alarmingly rare. Think back, in the last 10 years how many have you seen? Compare that, if you are over 30 years old, to the number you saw during your childhood. Their numbers have been severely diminished according to several sources down over 80% since 1992, the year that, according to the United States Geological Survey, the use of glyphosate surged from less than 11,000 tons to more than 88,000 tons in 2007. No doubt the figure is much higher now. This chemical is so commonly used that it’s now being detected in rainwater. These massive chemical applications have not only created hard-to-kill superweeds and contaminated the food supply but are also annihilating the milkweed plants that monarch caterpillars need to feed on to survive and lay their eggs.
Monarch butterfly is well know for it’s amazingly long migration to it’s overwintering grounds in Mexico. In addition to the demise of their primary food source along their migratory path, the forests where they winter in Mexico have been illegally overlogged.
According to Organic Magazine one way to help save the monarch’s is to eat organic. As noted on their website: www.organicmagazine.com:
Farmers have turned to genetically engineered crops at an explosive rate. Today, 94 percent of the soy and 72 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States is genetically engineered to withstand heavy sprayings of herbicides, mainly glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Researchers at Iowa State University found that the heavy use of glyphosate has resulted in an 81 percent decrease in the monarch butterfly population. Traditionally, milkweed would rebound after farmers used cultivation to kill weeds, but it is being wiped out with chemical interventions. Organic agriculture bans the use of chemical pesticides, so every dollar you shift to organic helps save monarch butterflies.
So what can you do?
Plant Milkweed. But, wait a minute. It’s not quite that simple. (Of course.) It is recommended that we are careful to plant locally grown milkweed varieties, and organic seeds that were not treated with chemicals. There are serious problems associated with planting of tropical milkweed. They can host a dangerous parasite, especially varieties that overwinter. I have found a couple sources of local seed. The Fragrant Path in Fort Calhoun www.fragrantpathseeds.com According to owner Edward Rasmussen, “ We have dropped the annual one (Asclepias curassavica) as by its late growth and blooming it is thought to delay the migratory movement of the Monarchs in the fall to their detriment.” Another local source is Stock Seed Farms, Murdock, NE. www.stockseed.com. They have several varieties and even sell in bulk.
Monarch catepillars only eat milkweed.
Not only is milkweed their primary food source, but a poisonous toxin in milkweed, though harmless to monarchs, makes the butterflies taste terrible to predators. This provides valuable protection from birds and other predators. There are even other butterflies who have mimiced the monarch colors and markings and enjoy some similar protection from predators. The Viceory butterfly at first glance can be mistaken for a monarch. The Viceory however does not migrate and lays their eggs and overwinters in place. So, in fact the few butterflies I’ve seen that I thought were Monarchs may have been the Viceroy butterfly.
There are several links to organizations working to save the monarch listed at www.midtownmonitor.com