The king of butterflies, that is: the monarch. According to Monarch Watch, there is reason to be concerned about the future of the monarch butterfly. Why?
Monarchs have a four-stage life cycle: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupa or chrysalis (cocoon), and butterfly.
The sole diet for the caterpillar
Butterflies survive on nectar from all types of flowers.
- Milkweed is in trouble and areas of wildflowers are diminishing. Housing subdivisions, shopping centers, business and other development projects are consuming millions of acres in the U.S. every year. Habitats for monarchs and other wildlife are shrinking.
- The use of herbicides and frequent mowing of roadsides has also turned wild habitat to grassland, which lacks food and shelter to sustain monarchs and other wildlife.
- Herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans allow growers to spray fields with the herbicide glyphosate instead of tilling to control weeds. Milkweeds survive tilling but not glyphosate when it is sprayed repeatedly. Croplands represent almost a third of the summer breeding grounds for monarchs.
This is why conservationists warn that monarch numbers are dwindling. I know we used to see a lot more of them come through Oklahoma on their trip south for the winter. Did you know that monarch butterflies are the only insect that migrates and hibernates?
Monarch Watch offers an interesting project for folks who want to help—a Monarch Waystation Seed Kit. The kit includes seeds for milkweed and general nectar plants (nine varying seed kit packs altogether) and a detailed guide on creating a Waystation. The guide is available as a PDF download.
Even if butterflies aren’t high on your list of concerns—let’s face it, there are plenty of serious issues on that growing list—building a Waystation for the fun of it could be just as rewarding. A butterfly garden might be a good community or group project. Planting and observing is a good way to keep kids busy learning through the summer. A Waystation could also become a beautiful place to unwind, perhaps just the thing to save the sanity of the King (or Queen) of your castle.
Other monarch fun facts:
- Monarchs go through four generations in a year. The first three generations hatch from cocoons and live up to six weeks, but the fourth generation will survive six to eight months, long enough to migrate, hibernate, and produce the new first generation in the spring.
- Male monarchs have a black spot on each of the hind wings. Females do not have this spot.
- Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains hibernate in Mexico in oyamel fir trees. Butterflies west of the Rock Mountains will hibernate in eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove, California and areas close by.
- The monarchs use the same trees year after year for hibernation even though they are obviously not the same butterflies that left the trees the year before.
That was an interesting tidbit that crossed my path this weekend. Do you know of any other simple wildlife projects for families or communities?