By -Georgia Lund-
The majestic monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable butterflies in America and dependent upon the milkweed for its survival. Due to land development and the usage of pesticides, natural habitats for milkweed have been destroyed. The loss of milkweed has caused a reduction in the monarch population, and the beautiful species of butterfly continues to decline in number.By -Georgia Lund-
Monarch butterflies have large wings that have a distinctive yellow, black and white color pattern and is found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This bold, bright color pattern gives warning to all predators that it will leave a bad taste in its mouth if the predator tries to eat it.
Each fall this beautiful creature will migrate to its wintering grounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Mexico or Southern California, depending on which part of the United States or Canada they migrate. During their fall migration trek, thousands of monarchs will land on a single tree area along their migratory pathway and make the tree appear to be alive as their yellow, black and white wings flap.
Wherever there’s milkweed (Asclepias spp.) there will be monarch butterflies. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer places each year that have milkweed growing in its natural habitat. Since monarchs are entirely dependent on this plant for survival, less milkweed means fewer monarchs.
Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants. During the larva stage, the caterpillars feed only on the host milkweed plant. As the life cycle continues and the caterpillars transform into adult butterflies, they will derive much of their needed nutrients from the nectar of milkweed flowers.
Monarchs will always return to areas that have a dense population of milkweed to lay their eggs. The poisonous protection the monarch has stored in its body comes from the milkweed plant it fed upon while it was in the larva and caterpillar stage of life.
Plant a Butterfly Garden
To keep the monarch (and other butterfly species) active and healthy, consider planting a butterfly garden. Many flowers (coneflower, aster, golden rod) provide nectar for butterflies, but milkweed is a must-have for monarchs. The plant does have a less-than-stellar-reputation, so it’s often called ‘butterfly plant’ at nurseries.
Image by: MARIE-ANN DALOIA