Quantcast
Animals
A Monarch rests at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve during the Monarch migration on Sept. 11 in Cleveland, Ohio. Irma Omerhodzic

5 Ways to Make a Difference in the Life of a Monarch

By Terri Hansen

Winter is a perfect time to show migrating monarchs some butterfly love.


Monarchs pair—bug talk for mating—over the winter in Mexico and California, and in February they begin their 2,500-mile journey north to Canada. It takes up to seven generations to get there, as each generation breeds and dies along the way.

To help them, you'll have to get passionate about milkweed.

Milkweed is a perennial wildflower. It's the only plant monarch butterflies lay eggs on, so it's needed along their entire migratory path. Its leaves are the only food source their larvae will eat. Eastern Monarch populations have plummeted 90 percent in just the last two decades because of the loss of milkweed, whose habitat has been converted to farms—herbicide-tolerant corn and soybean fields with heavy pesticide use—and roads and other development. Climate change also threatens their migration patterns.

When Brad Grimm took his fiancée to the Monarch Trail at Natural Bridges State Park in California on Valentine's Day 2013 to show her the thousands of monarchs he'd seen there 20 years earlier, they counted just five. Western monarchs, which traditionally mobbed that part of California in the winter, have declined to the point that the species will likely go extinct in the next few decades if nothing is done.

Monarchs are an indicator species telling us something is wrong with our environment. They share their habitat with birds, bats, bees and other pollinators responsible for producing a third of our food supply.

Back home in Sparks, Nevada, Grimm wanted to help the bugs make a comeback by planting milkweed but couldn't find any at his local nursery. They directed him to a nearby park.

"There are plants growing in the parks, mostly along rivers and streams, even irrigation ditches," Grimm said. "The next year, ironically, the local nursery had native narrow-leaf milkweed growing by their entrance but didn't seem know about the plant or its value to the monarchs because they cut the plants back in mid-July, when monarchs need milkweed the most."

Grimm's initial difficulty in finding seeds and plants turned into a passion. He started a seed store, Grow Milkweed Plants. In September, he sold 221 packets. He planted the Biggest Little Butterfly Garden in the World, registered by the nonprofit Monarch Watch as Monarch Waystation 8269. All of his profits go to monarch conservation. He hopes to earn enough to buy land for the monarchs.

It's not hard to make a huge difference in the life of a monarch. Here are five ways.

Grow Milkweed

In North America, more than 100 species of milkweed (genus Asclepias) grow, and the first step is finding a kind expert to your area, such as Grow Milkweed Plants or Xerces Society.

Fall and winter are the perfect time to start milkweed from seeds. In general, milkweed seeds need a 30-day cold period to germinate, so planting them outdoors in the cold weather is ideal. You'll have plants by spring.

Alternatively, you can germinate them indoors by putting them in the refrigerator between damp paper towels in a plastic bag for three to six weeks. Give them a head start before spring by planting the germinated seeds indoors in small pots, then transplant them outdoors before temperatures reach the mid-80s. Water well until the plants are established.

You can also buy potted milkweed to transplant.

Put Milkweed in Small Spaces ...

Small yard? No yard? Place pots of milkweed on your patio or porch where you can delight in watching the caterpillars and butterflies. Monarch butterflies need nectar from a variety of plants, so grow other flowers, too.

... And Large Spaces

Create Monarch Waystations at residences, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers and along roadsides or other unused plots of land. Ten milkweed plants, representing at least two varieties, become a monarch hub, with enough milkweed for their ongoing feeding. Now you're rolling, and you're ready to launch a community effort.

Don't Use 'Cides

Monarchs are insects, and all 'cides—herbicides, fungicides, insecticides—are poisonous, either to insects or the plants they eat. Garden organically to keep pests away without killing beneficial insects. And do what you can to make sure your community doesn't use these chemicals.

Get Community Cooperation

Lobby your local representatives to support the Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and citizens working to conserve monarch butterfly migration. Because milkweed can be toxic to livestock, many areas target it for eradication. Ask to stop roadside mowing, and ask to allow milkweed and other nectar plants to grow along monarch migratory corridors, in parks, and important monarch breeding grounds.

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
Part of the Sunoco Mariner East pipeline network in Pennsylvania. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

Another Sinkhole Opens Along Controversial Mariner East Pipeline Route

Sunoco's controversial Mariner East pipeline project in Pennsylvania is beginning 2019 on unstable ground, literally. A sinkhole opened in the suburban development of Lisa Drive in Chester County Sunday, exposing the old Mariner East 1 pipeline built in the 1930s.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland Melting 4x Faster Than in 2013, and From an Unexpected Source

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Judge Halts Seismic Testing Permits During Shutdown

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Pxhere

DiCaprio-Funded Study: Staying Below 1.5ÂşC is Totally Possible

Climate change has been called the biggest challenge of our time. Last year, scientists with the United Nations said we basically have 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5ÂşC to avoid planetary catastrophe.

Amid a backdrop of rising global carbon emissions, there's a real case for pessimism. However, many scientists are hopeful of a way out.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Martin Luther King Jr. at steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

MLK Would Have Been an Environmental Leader, Too

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words and actions continue to resonate on the 90th anniversary of his birth.

As the country honors the life and legacy of the iconic civil rights leader today, we are reminded that the social justice and the climate movements are deeply connected.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A great tit family and nest. Bak GiSeok / 500px / Getty Images

Climate Change Leading to Fatal Bird Conflicts

By Marlene Cimons

Most Europeans know the great tit as an adorable, likeable yellow-and-black songbird that shows up to their feeders in the winter. But there may be one thing they don't know. That cute, fluffy bird can be a relentless killer.

The great tit's aggression can emerge in gruesome ways when it feels threatened by the pied flycatcher, a bird that spends most of the year in Africa, but migrates to Europe in the spring to breed. When flycatchers arrive at their European breeding grounds, they head for great tit territory, knowing that great tits—being year-round European residents—know the best nesting sites.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Saving the World’s Largest Tropical Wetland

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

35,000 Protestors in Berlin Call for Agricultural Revolution

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!