|The monarch butterfly is one of the most beloved insects in the world. Their numbers are declining at a frightening rate though, and they are in danger of becoming instinct in our lifetime. Image credit U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service|
The monarch butterfly is perhaps the best known and beloved butterfly species in the United States. But like hundreds of other beautiful creatures, the monarch is in grave danger. It is estimated that just since 1993, the monarch butterfly population worldwide has declined by a startling 90 percent. The reason? Destruction of its host plant on which adult monarchs lay their eggs and their caterpillars feed: milkweed. According to the Houston Chronicle, “Billions of milkweed plants have been lost in the breeding grounds of Midwestern farm fields because of indiscriminate use of glyphosate herbicide.”
But Friendswood, Texas, resident Kate B. and her granddaughter Kali aren’t sitting idly by waiting on their precious monarchs to disappear. Situated smack dab in the middle of the monarch butterfly migration route, Kate and Kali have taken the plight of the monarch butterfly to heart. Together they have implemented a process that saves hundreds – perhaps thousands – of monarchs each season.
During the spring and fall migration, Kate and Kali go out each day and collect monarch eggs and caterpillars. “We can't stand to leave them on the plants as they are eaten by predators,” explains Kate. “Ants, lizards, wasps and various other predators will eat the eggs and/or caterpillars.”
After collecting, the eggs go in a sterile jar until they hatch. All newly-hatched monarch larvae – as well as the caterpillars that are collected – are placed in one of several mesh habitats and tended carefully. “We feed them and clean the cage daily as they poop a lot and will get diseased if not kept clean. They’re very hungry rascals and it takes a lot of milkweed to feed them. On occasion, they will even devour another one if not fed properly.”
In fact, Kate and Kali have had a tough time keeping up with their charges’ milkweed habit. “We built a raised bed and bought enough milkweed to fill it. I know that won't be enough though, as the monarchs are laying eggs like crazy. I’m working with a nearby nursery to get better pricing for milkweed plants. They have agreed to sell them to us for $1.00 each. I’m picking up 40 new plants on Thursday; I know that may sound like a lot, but they won't last long. Right now we have over 150 caterpillars so we have to continually replenish the milkweed stock.”
Kate explains that paying for the milkweed on her fixed income isn’t the only challenge. First she has to find nurseries that don’t use chemical pesticides. Then she has to get there the day the truck delivers the plants or she doesn’t get any that week. And if all that wasn’t enough, “there’s a little fly that gets inside and kills them ... there are lots of things to look for.”
If you are interested in doing what you can to save the monarch butterfly, check out “Save the Monarch Butterfly” on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.