Monarch Mad­ness

A les­son in mi­gra­tion in­spired me to help these but­ter­flies flour­ish.


lthough I’d heard about the de­clin­ing num­bers of monarch but­ter­flies, I didn’t know the whole story. And as some­one who val­ues the beauty and sat­is­fac­tion of grow­ing my own veg­eta­bles and flow­ers, I wanted to learn more about this is­sue.

AIn the win­ter of 2015, our lo­cal science mu­seum fea­tured Flight of the But­ter­flies, a film doc­u­ment­ing the an­nual monarch mi­gra­tion from as far north as Canada to a spe­cific moun­tain area in Mex­ico and back again.

Af­ter the movie, we vis­ited the but­ter­fly house to feed but­ter­flies. While there, we learned mon­archs have been steadily de­clin­ing in part be­cause of the de­creased avail­abil­ity of milk­weed, their es­sen­tial food source.

That spring I learned as much as I could about rais­ing mon­archs. While opin­ions dif­fer about how pes­ti­cides have con­trib­uted to the pol­li­na­tors’ de­cline, I know first­hand that cater­pil­lars that feed on treated plants don’t sur­vive.

I didn’t want any plants that had been treated with pes­ti­cides in the new pol­li­na­tor gar­den I planned. So I bought a va­ri­ety of plants from a lo­cal na­tive grower to at­tract the mon­archs, bees and other en­dan­gered pol­li­na­tors.

When the first shoots of com­mon milk­weed emerged, I was ec­static. As the few milk­weed plants grew, I pro­tected them as if they were prized orchids. Then one day we saw a but­ter­fly flit­ting from one plant to another. Af­ter she left, I found my first monarch eggs, and thus be­gan my won­der­ful sum­mer of monarch mad­ness.

In 2015, I raised and re­leased 64 mon­archs—not too bad for my first year. Some eggs didn’t hatch and some hatch­lings died. Sad­dest of all were the cater­pil­lars that strug­gled to emerge from the chrysalis and died dur­ing the at­tempt.

I’m not em­bar­rassed to tell you I cried over some of them. But I take heart know­ing that in the wild, only a tiny frac­tion of the eggs I found would have be­come but­ter­flies. And of those 64 lit­tle orange and black crea­tures that started life in my kitchen, maybe a few even made it all the way south to Mex­ico.

At the end of the sum­mer, I scat­tered the seeds from my wild milk­weed farther into our field, hop­ing they would grow into a large wild patch. With any luck, my na­tive gar­den will flour­ish as a glo­ri­ous haven for but­ter­flies and other pol­li­na­tors.

I re­ally have a won­der­ful and sat­is­fy­ing hobby!

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