Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vanishing Monarchs

Animals that consume a narrow diet are much more vulnerable than those eat a varied diet. While the honey bee derives its nutrition from many flower sources, the larvae of another insect, the monarch butterfly, relies solely upon one, the milkweed plant. Recent years have seen dramatic declines in the number of monarch butterflies. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. writes in the Chicago Tribune,, that this past summer he saw no monarch butterflies in an area where he saw hundreds per day in previous years. Kennedy explains that scientists blame the loss of monarch butterflies in part on deforestation in Mexico, drought, climate change. However, the greatest cause of this migrating butterfly’s disappearance is the widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate, first marketed by Monsanto as Roundup. When Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans in the late 1990s, farmers started spraying agricultural fields with the herbicide to kill everything except the desired crop. As a result of this change in farming practice, milkweed has been largely eliminated from much of America’s crop lands. To combat the loss of the monarch’s food, Kennedy suggests that we plant milkweed to create a “butterfly highway” along the monarch’s migratory route from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico. These plantings fit in nicely with efforts to help save bees, butterflies, and other at-risk pollinators.

The monarch’s treacherous migration of 2500 miles involves several generations. Butterflies east of the Rockies fly to Mexico to spend the winter, and monarchs west of the Rockies winter in California. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette illustrates their migration route through Arkansas at Those wanting to provide milkweed for the passing butterflies can find sources of seed from the Xerces Society at  The monarch, considered by some as the most beautiful insect may respond to plantings of its required food in pollinator gardens. With flowers added, these gardens are important food plots for honey bees and native pollinators as well.