The Monarch Butterfly: Know Your Stuff by Valerie Frankoski

Are you as worried about monarch butterflies as I am? 

Funny, I did not worry about them when I was growing up. I am old enough that books in my classrooms wondered where monarchs went for the winter. People saw clouds of them migrating in the fall, but their destination was unknown.  Besides, they always returned each spring. No worry! Eventually, in the mid-1970’s, scientists figured out they traveled to Mexico where local people celebrated them as returning spirits of their ancestors. 

More recently, the disappearance of fresh milkweed for caterpillars and nectar plants for adult butterflies threatens to eliminate this phenomenon. In fact, over the last 20 years, populations have declined by 90%!

So why is this happening? Do we care, and can we do anything about it? 

Most simply, the problem is lack of “fuel” for the monarchs, and yes, some of us do care, and best of all, there is something we can do about it!

Migrating to and from Mexico requires a lot of “fuel”/food. That means flowers for the adult butterfly and plenty of milkweed plants for their very picky-eater children, the caterpillars. As monarchs travel north, they must find milkweed to lay eggs and nectar to sip until they die. This only takes about one month for their life cycle to be complete. Their children continue to travel north when they transform into butterflies, and the cycle repeats about 4 more times. Then, a special generation of butterflies is born. These butterflies are not ready to reproduce. They will migrate to Mexico...if they find enough “fuel” for the trip in nectar plants growing along the way.

But why is this happening now? Quite simply, as we build more and more houses, stores, and factories, require more and more land to grow our food, and use more chemicals to kill bugs and weeds, we have eliminated the fueling stations needed by monarchs, both adults and their children. Now there are large gaps in the landscape where there are no resources available for monarchs to refuel, especially in urban areas where there are so many buildings, paved areas, and exotic plant “fuels” unusable to the monarchs. 

For us to continue to witness the beauty of the monarch and the magic of its migration, cities that care must create the necessary “fueling” stations to provide the sips of nectar and munches of milkweed currently in such short supply.

Good news! The City of Joplin, in collaboration with cities and towns across the nation, is taking action to create healthy monarch habitat in public spaces and encouraging residents to partner in an effort to sustain and strengthen this migration. Joplin has joined the MAYORS’ MONARCH PLEDGE, a project of the National Wildlife Federation, and is taking the initiative to keep monarchs a part of the community.

In partnership with Missouri Master Naturalist, Joplin has already taken steps to create healthy monarch habitat in several parks, and will expand this effort by transforming park entrances at three (or more) additional parks. Missouri Grow Native! has contributed milkweed plants for the project, and private citizens and the City will purchase and install additional nectar plants. Residents will be encouraged to participate by making their own pledge to create monarch habitat in their own yards.

Is there something you might do in your community to help? In reality, every citizen can make a difference where they live, work, learn, play, and worship. Take time to make YOUR pledge!

This is first in a series about the monarch butterfly and the MAYORs’ MONARCH PLEDGE in Joplin.

Posted on April 23, 2017 .