Saturday, July 17, 2010

Monarch SOS

Recently, I have noticed a decline of monarch butterflies in our garden. The milkweed plants grew and flowered, yet there was no activity on the plants. In prior years, there were always a flutter of monarchs (danaus plexipus) in our garden; then suddenly one day they were all gone! For two years, we waited, and waited, then today I spied a familiar face, gliding and floating lazily from flower to flower. Aha! They were back, at least one was. I screeched (bawled out) with excitement (more like a Chhaaaakk) and I quickly ran to the house to give Chuck the good news.

We later decided to go to a nearby field where we had previously seen many monarchs, to collect a few caterpillars to get the colony going. I was really disappointed with the scarcity of monarch larvae. The field had many of their larval food plants present, yet I spotted one lone monarch. What had happened? Could it be that the heavy and indiscriminate use of pesticides, had finally taken its toll on the population? Or, could it be due to some type of virus? Or had some predator developed an appetite for these bad tasting creatures? After carefully searching under the leaves of their larval host plant, (the giant milkweed) we found about six caterpillars varying in sizes, the largest measuring around 4cms.

We brought them home and they are now happily chomping away on the milkweeds in our garden.

The absence of these creatures is a strong indicator that all is not well in our environment. Without these delightful insects, our food supply will be affected as well as the survival of other important insects in the food chain. These insects are some of the pollinators necessary for food crop and fruit production. I feel a sense of urgency, that unless we do something immediately, we will be in very serious trouble. We have to act now to:

  • drastically reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides
  • preserve native species of plants that are used for nectar and larval food
  • to encourage and educate homeowners on how to start butterfly gardens
  • introduce butterfly gardens into schools where good habits for a healthy environment can be cultivated at an early age
I am presently in the process of planning butterfly gardening workshops here for children and adults.


  1. Butterfly garden in schools is a very good idea, Helen. I'll try to introduce in my school.

  2. Wonderful story! I've not used pesticides in the garden since 1981. But it takes all of our neighbors as well, doesn't it?
    Keep us posted on their growth.
    Thanks. David

  3. Never noticed if a butterfly was missing ... I think gardening makes you so much more aware!! I wish our schools, instead just talking about environment also get the newer generations interested in nature. Like after I started taking bird pictures, I look at any trees being trimmed with a more aware concern.

  4.'s a post that makes one think! About our own contribution to the environment. I don't use pesticides either and I'm happy with all the caterpillars here. But not all of them have emerged as butterflies. Something is out sucking the pupa.

    I hope your monarch caterpillars make it successfully. Keep us posted. Love the idea of butterfly gardening workshops. I've heard that some schools here are already introducing Nature as a subject. In my day we had a book called "Nature Rambles". Still have fond memories of those classes...some lessons remain in the heart for ever.

  5. Sadly, I watched a program on NPR about the Monarch butterfly... In Northern America the butterflies migrate as far north as parts of Canada. Their South American destination is a spot in Central America, where they winter in the trees by the millions. What is happening is that the local population is cutting down the forest for firewood to sell. The human population is impoverished. They do have a "tourist business" which involves the Monarch butterfly, but fewer and fewer of the amazing butterflies are surviving the deforestation. You may be able to find out more of this by going to the NPR website (National Public Radio).

    The butterflies need us to work for their survival!


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