Endangered monarch butterflies migrate

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed. Here is a picture of the monarch caterpillar “hanging out” on a leaf of the plant.

Monarch butterflies are probably the most recognized North American butterfly, beloved for their beautiful orange and black wings. These milkweed-eating insects are unique because they make a massive migration from Canada and the USA to Mexico each fall. Unfortunately, the number of monarch butterflies in the world has fallen by as much as 90% over the past 20 years.

Every year, butterflies make stops along their migration route, laying eggs on milkweed plants. When the caterpillars hatch and grow big enough to begin their transformation, they wrap themselves up in chrysalises to become butterflies. Sadly, there are very few of them making it to the chrysalis stage, as populations have decreased by about 60% in certain regions!

What is the cause of all this? Scientists can’t say for sure, but they speculate that climate change, pesticides, and a decrease in milkweed plants are largely responsible. “They literally are putting all their eggs in one basket,” said Wayne Petersen, a bug specialist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society. With their “egg baskets” being destroyed, where else are they to care for the young ones?

World renowned butterfly expert, Lincoln Brower, explains that if monarchs went extinct, it would be “just like going into a museum and pulling a rare painting off the wall and destroying it.” Several organizations have sent a petition to the USA’s Fish and Wildlife Service to protect monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, which would help devote government resources towards saving them. The petition reads, “millions of school children have reared monarchs in classrooms and learned about metamorphosis by watching the caterpillars transform.”

If you want to help, plant some milkweed in your backyard, as it’s the only plant where the butterflies lay eggs. This will provide a safe and nurturing environment. If there’s still room in the soil, grow some Joe Pye weeds to provide the monarchs with tasty nectar that’ll fill their tiny hungry bellies. Finally, throw in some marigolds and butterfly bush. The pretty colors will attract them to the safe home you’ve built for them!

Featured image courtesy of Kenneth Dwain Harrelson on Wikipedia. Image of caterpillar courtesy of Lee Ruk on Flickr.