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