Monarch Butterflies: Nature’s Travelers

Monarch Butterflies: Nature’s Travelers

Author Haley Jordan and Isabel Snyder

  A monarch takes nectar from a flower in Vermont. Monarchs fly as far north as Canada during the spring and early summer months. Photo by Isabel Snyder.

A monarch takes nectar from a flower in Vermont. Monarchs fly as far north as Canada during the spring and early summer months. Photo by Isabel Snyder.

October is a month with many different events, from Homecoming to Halloween. But one that is often overlooked is the migration of monarch butterflies. From the Eastern and Western Coasts of the United states to Mexico and parts of southern California, individual monarchs travel up to an incredible 3,000 miles. This migration happens around late September to October of each year. The monarch butterflies (Danaus Plexippus) winter in southern forests, then return to their breeding grounds in the spring. The return spans multiple generations before the cycle repeats. To the monarchs, the migration is simply a survival necessity, but to us it is considered one of the most beautiful events of the natural world.

  Many monarchs from the West Coast winter in southern California, like the ones above. In recent years, many of the trees the butterflies require for wintering have been targeted for logging. Photo from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Many monarchs from the West Coast winter in southern California, like the ones above. In recent years, many of the trees the butterflies require for wintering have been targeted for logging. Photo from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

In recent years, however, monarch butterflies have experienced a huge decrease in population due to development and herbicide use. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, in 1997, scientists found around 682 million butterflies on their wintering grounds. By 2013, their population had dropped to a mere 25 million, a 96% decrease - these butterflies are on the verge of extinction. Before we know it, these beautiful and important creatures could disappear from our planet forever.

So Charter, what can we do to help? One simple thing we can do is to refrain from using pesticides on our yards. Pesticides can be very harmful for butterflies and the plants that they need to survive. Monarch butterflies require nectar while on their migration and monarch caterpillars rely on a plant called milkweed, considered a weed in most gardens. Pesticides can eliminate both necessities, leaving a monarch with nowhere to go.

  A monarch butterfly drinks nectar from a milkweed plant. Milkweed is an essential in monarch gardens. Photo from pixabay.

A monarch butterfly drinks nectar from a milkweed plant. Milkweed is an essential in monarch gardens. Photo from pixabay.

If you want to take your involvement a step further, you could consider building a butterfly garden in your backyard. These gardens are easy to create and are a great way to protect monarchs! All you need to do is plant a garden with monarch attractors, such as milkweed, which monarch caterpillars rely on as their only food source and which monarch butterflies require to lay eggs.  You can even make your garden an official monarch waystation for them to stop at during the migration! Not only does this allow for you to help monarch conservation efforts, but it also allows for you to witness the beauty of monarch butterflies in your own backyard.

Now that you are an expert in the field of monarch butterflies, it is up to you to pass on your new knowledge to your peers. If we all take time to educate others on the importance of the monarch butterfly and how we can help, we can make an enormous difference.

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