“The number of monarchs that completed the largest and most arduous migration this fall, from the northern United States and Canada to a mountainside forest in Mexico, dropped precipitously, apparently to the lowest level yet recorded” – Michael Wines, New York Times
I grew up with monarch butterflies. One of the clearest memories from my childhood is slowly driving along a country road with my father as we scanned the fields for one plant and one plant only, milkweed. My father worked during the day, so we used the setting sun’s golden light to look for the fat black, white, and yellow monarch caterpillars as they munched on their leaves. When we found one or two, we would carefully cradle them to the safety of a mesh container labeled “Erika’s Bug Motel,” gather a few days’ supply of milkweed, and transfer it all to a dry fish tank. I would watch, wide-eyed with anticipation, as the caterpillars each created a small chrysalis, and eventually transformed into the magnificent orange and black monarch butterflies.
The next generation of children may not have the same opportunities to watch the natural world as I did. A recent New York Times article summarizes the dramatic drop in migrating monarch butterflies, and there’s a lot going against the iconic them: pollution, drought, pesticides, fungicides, and, most importantly, habitat destruction. Yet, the pro-monarch troops have rallied and begun a nationwide effort to protect America’s favorite butterfly.
Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, and as crop expansion and other causes have decimated milkweed habitat, many organizations are working on creative solutions to expand milkweed’s range once more. According to the New York Times article, the Tallgrass Prairie Center grows milkweed seeds for parks and government lands, Monarch Watch sold 22,000 “milkweed ‘plugs’” to schools and other supporters, while the Pollinator Partnership encourages state highway departments to “plant bee-friendly wildflowers and monarch habitat instead.”
If you love the butterflies, there are easy steps you can take to support the monarch migration. The Monarch Watch website contains simple instructions for creating your own Monarch Waystation in your backyard or school. Raise monarchs at home or in a classroom to teach kids (and adults) about the monarch life cycle and the importance of conservation. You can even participate in research projects by tagging the butterflies themselves!
Perhaps most importantly, make an effort in 2014 to seek the butterflies out. For iconic species such as the monarch butterfly, seeing them is to be in awe of them.
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