Cape Ann Milkweed and Monarch Habitat, Eastern Point
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering adding Monarchs as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. A one-year review is underway to monitor the butterfly’s status. Since the 1990s the population has plummeted from about one billion to approximately 35 million. That may seem like a substantial number, but the Monarchs need stronger numbers to be resilient to other threats such as harsh weather.
The reason for the decline is primarily because of loss of milkweed habitat in the agricultural heartland of the United States. With the development of Monsanto’s Roundup and Roundup Ready (glyphosate resistant) seed, farmers are now able to spray glyphosate directly on their corn, soybean, and sorghum crops. Roundup also destroys milkweed. Secondly, with the push for ethanol, farmers have begun to plant corn on conservation land.
If the Fish and Wildlife Service determines that the Monarchs are threatened, they will set aside land for milkweed.
You can read more about the the Monarch Butterfly Endangered Species Act here:
Once established, native Common Milkweed grows vigorously and rambunctiously, making itself known even in the thinnest of sidewalk cracks. Here’s a patch growing along East Main Street. I think it beautiful! What do you think?
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If you caught Tom Ashbrook’s On Point broadcast on NPR yesterday morning you heard Doctor Lincoln Brower, Karen Oberhausser, and Rick Mikula, three of the world’s leading butterfly experts, speaking about the disappearance of the Monarch and the main reason why–most notably because of the sterilization of the American landscape through the use Monsanto’s Roundup and GMO corn and soybean crops.
The following is a list of a few suggestions on ways in which we can all help turn the tide:
Plant milkweed and wildflowers. Teach members of your family and friends what milkweed looks like and why we don’t want to weed it out of the garden. The above patch of milkweed is growing next to a shop on East Main Street. About a month ago, I went into the store and, very, very politely inquired as to whether or not they knew that the plant growing outside their doorway was a terrific patch of milkweed. They had no idea. I explained what the benefits were to the Monarchs and have since noticed that the milkweed patch is still growing beautifully!
Ban GMO crops. Genetically modified seeds have been altered to withstand megadoses of Roundup. Millions and millions of tons of herbicides are poured onto Roundup Ready fields of crops, preventing any other plant that has not been genetically altered from growing (in other words, wildflowers). The application of Monsanto’s deadly destructive herbicide Roundup is creating vast sterilized agricultural wastelands, which will, over time, only need heavier and heavier does of their lethal chemicals to continue to be viable.
Don’t apply herbicides and pesticides in your own gardens.
Create wildflower corridors in backyards and highways.
Reduce salt wherever possible (and where it wouldn’t cause harm to human life). Large amounts of road salt, as was needed during this past snowiest of winters, is detrimental to wildlife habitats.
Horses neigh, bugs crawl across the lens, and Monarchs flutter in the background —interview on the mountaintop and it was all beautiful! Video includes footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.
Monarch Migration Interview with Tom Emmel, filmed at the summit of the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Angangueo, Mexico.
This was Tom’s 40th trip to Angangueo to study the Monarchs. In this interview, he provides some historical perspective from those very first trips to the remote Oyamel fir forests atop the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountains. We learn how scientists count millions of Monarchs. Tom discusses the state of the Monarch migration today and why it is in crisis.
Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florida, Gainesville. Additional footage shot at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve and at the base of Sierra Chincua.
Monarchs usually arrive in our region by the first week in July and go through several brood cycles. This year, barely any arrived. The Monarch’s sensitivity to temperature and dependence on milkweed make it vulnerable to environmental changes. Since 1994, U.S. and Mexican researchers have recorded a steady decline in the Monarch population in their overwintering grounds, with 2012-2013 being the lowest recorded to date.
Temperature change and habitat loss affect breeding success and longevity. Dr. Chip Taylor, a leading Monarch researcher at the University of Kansas reports that the widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybean crops resistant to herbicides, along with with intensive herbicide use, coupled with the federal government’s incentivized expansion of corn and soy acreage for the production of biofuels have caused a significant drop in milkweed throughout the heart of the Monarch’s range. Lack of milkweed equals no Monarchs. “Monarch/milkweed habitat has declined significantly in parallel with the rapid adoption of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans and, since 2006, the rapid expansion of corn and soy acreage to accommodate the production of biofuels,” Taylor wrote on May 29.
Monarchs Nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod
What can we do? Encourage conservation organizations that conserve Monarch habitat, plant milkweed, plant nectar plants, and raise caterpillars. Hopefully the weather next spring and early summer will be more conducive to the Monarch’s northward migration and breeding success, and if and when the Monarchs arrive, they will find our milkweed plants.
Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at New England Asters
If anyone sees a Monarch, please email me at email@example.com or leave a comment in the comment section.
Update: For more information, see previous GMG posts on Monarchs and Milkweed:
The above photo of a male (right) and female (left) Monarch Butterflies on Marsh Milkweed is part of the GMG/Cape Ann Giclee Photography show, opening tonight, Friday. Hope to see you there!
I am often asked the following question at my butterfly and pollinator garden design lectures. How exactly are Monsanto’s products ravaging the Monarch Butterfly population?
First, it is important to understand that all butterfly caterpillars rely on plant foods specific to each species of butterfly. For example, Monarch caterpillars only eat members of the milkweed family, Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat plants in the carrot family, and Heliconian butterflies eat plants in the passionflower family. Some caterpillars, like the larvae of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail eat plants from a wide range of plant families. That being said, it is worth repeating that Monarch caterpillars only survive on members of the milkweed family.
Imagine a farm with row upon row of corn. Growing amongst and around the edges of the cornfields are wildflowers of all sorts, including milkweed. The wildflowers draw to the fields myriad pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds.
Monsanto has genetically modified the seed of corn and soybeans so that it will withstand extremely heavy doses of its herbicide, called Roundup. Monsanto’s corn and soybean seed is actually called Roundup Ready. Roundup Ready plants can withstand massive doses of the herbicide Roundup, but the milkweed and other wildflowers growing in the corn and soybean fields cannot.
Each year massive amounts of Roundup are sprayed on the corn and soybean fields, killing everything in sight, except the Roundup Ready corn and soybean. Additionally, Monsanto’s Roundup contains the active ingredient glyphosate, which has been tied to more health and environmental problems than you can possibly imagine.
Now imagine you are a Monarch Butterfly, having flown hundreds of miles northward towards breeding grounds of milkweed. But there is no milkweed to deposit your eggs. The circle in the chain of life is broken.
Since the use of genetically modified Roundup Ready began, milkweed has disappeared from over 100 million acres of row crops, or a roughly 58 percent decrease. Milkweed is not only the Monarch caterpillar host (or food) plant, the nectar-rich florets provide nourishment for hundreds of species of bees and other Lepidoptera.
The Monarch Butterfly migration is one of the great migrations of the world. Climate change and the loss of habitat are also factors in the decrease of butterflies. The Mexican government and the people of Mexico have enacted policies to help protect from logging the remaining oyamel fur trees in the Monarchs winter habitat.
There are several steps that we in the United States can undertake. 1) Avoid as much as possible genetically modified food, especially corn and soybean products. 2) If you own shares of Monsanto stock, get rid of it (Monsanto also developed Agent Orange). Thirdly, we need to start a national movement to cultivate milkweed and to create awareness about the important role wildflowers play in our ecosystem.
Calling Everyone: Plant Milkweed! No matter how small or large your garden, give a spot over to milkweed and watch your garden come to life!