Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Monarch Butterfly - In Danger of Disappearing

Photo source:  sgbrown aka-Rockcreek Photography

The monarch butterfly is truly one of the most beautiful butterflies in the world. They can be seen throughout North, South and Central America. They can also be found as far as Australia, India, parts of Western Europe and some islands in the Pacific. 

Their beautiful orange wings have black veins that reach out from the body to the edge of their wings. Each wing is trimmed in black with white spots. The average wing span of the monarch is 4 to 5 inches and the female monarch has thicker veins in their wings than the males. 

The bright color of the monarch is used as a warning to predators that they are poisonous. Eating a monarch may not kill the predator, but it will make them not ever want to eat another one! Their toxin comes from eating the milkweed plant, which is toxic to most animals. 

The milkweed plant is the food source for the monarch caterpillar. The monarch butterfly will only lay her eggs on varieties of milkweed plants. Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillar will eat the leaves of the plant, thus ingesting the toxin.

Here in lies the problem. Milkweed plants are disappearing. You used to see them growing wild in fields or along the sides of the road, but no so much anymore. More and more fields are being planted with genetically altered crops, such as corn, especially along what is called the “corn belt” in the central part of the US, which is part of the monarch butterflies migration route. 

These genetically altered crops are being sprayed with strong herbicides which are not only killing the “weeds” but every other kind of wildflower in their path. Much of these herbicides are falling on the milkweed plants that grow along the edges of these fields, thus killing them off. The monarch butterfly will only lay her eggs on milkweed plants. 

In fall, the monarch butterfly begins its migration to parts of California and Central Mexico. Many of them will travel over 2000 miles to reach their destination. A study at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan, Mexico has found that the number of butterflies migrating there has fallen from over a billion to only around 5 million. That is a huge reduction! Scientist are afraid that if this reduction continues, in another 20 years there may be no monarch butterflies left. 

Would you be willing to help the monarch butterfly population? It is as simple as planting some milkweed in your yard. Milkweed is an easy plant to grow and is drought tolerant. Planting some milkweed will give the monarch more places to deposit their eggs and get the population of these beautiful butterflies back to where it should be. 

You may also enjoy reading:

What Can We Do to Help the Monarch Butterfly Population?

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