Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies, with their easily recognized black-and-orange wing pattern, are preparing for their seasonal migration. These delicate yet durable insects will average a flight speed of 5.2 mph, flying hundreds of miles to their winter home, which could be as far away as Mexico.

Unfortunately, these butterflies that were very plentiful are in serious decline and their existence is threatened. One reason is the loss of their winter habitat in Mexico and loss of breeding areas in North America.

Another reason is a significant loss of their food source. Monarchs are plant-specific, and they only lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. Milkweed is a highly toxic plant to birds and other insects; however, the monarch larvae have adapted their diet to the toxins and will not eat any other plant. People using herbicides to eliminate weeds are unwittingly killing the very plants that butterflies and other insects need to feed on and reproduce.

On an industrialized scale, modern farming practices have eliminated plants like milkweed due to the use of dangerous but accepted herbicides. Growers plant genetically modified seeds that are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate is spread over the fields to eliminate competitive plants while the genetically engineered crops are resistant to the herbicide. Corn and soybeans are immune, but plants like milkweed are eradicated. This eliminates a vital food and reproduction source of the butterfly. Consequently, butterfly populations have declined.

The good news is, people are becoming more aware of the delicate balance of nature and man’s influence. Many cities and states realize the importance of working with nature and the importance of pollinators like bees and butterflies. Steps are being taken to preserve land not just for the butterflies but also for plants, trees and nature’s other creatures. Homeowners are embracing native plants over non-native plants. Collectively, by planting milkweed and other butterfly-attracting plants, our yards will help provide monarchs with food and breeding sites that are essential for their survival. By increasing the amount of butterfly-attracting plants and eliminating herbicides and pesticides, we can ensure a greater chance of survival for our friend the monarch.

Sustainable Downbeach is working toward creating a healthier, friendlier community with an eye on protecting the environment. For information or to get involved, see Sustainable Downbeach on Facebook.

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