Monarchs Need Our Help to Survive

 

Yantis Lakeside Gardens

Living and Gardening in the

Beautiful Texas Hill Country




                 
               
           
Monarchs Need Our Help to Survive
By Robert & Sheryl Yantis






In the next few months, as temperatures rise, Monarch butterflies will appear in Texas on their way from Mexico to their summer habitats throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada. Some of them travel up to 2500 miles. Monarch Butterflies spend the winter in the fir forests of Mexico to escape the cold winters, hibernating and then returning north each spring as the weather warms and their larval food plants start growing. The fertile female monarch butterflies migrate first and lay eggs on milkweed along their way north. The eggs hatch into caterpillars (larvae) which eat milkweed and pupate and emerge after metamorphosis as a full grown butterfly. These butterflies and the male butterflies continue the migration. This generation and the next two generations live only about six weeks and only the fourth generation lives about six months and migrate south to Mexico in the fall and repeat the cycle the next spring.

The number of Monarch butterflies migrating has declined at an alarming rate due to extreme weather conditions and disappearing habitats both in their southern wintering grounds and their northern breeding grounds. Last spring unusually cold weather in Texas delayed the butterflies’ spring migration causing them to arrive late in areas where they would have bred. This limited their breeding season and aided in the decline in their numbers in the fall migration. 

One of the major reasons for Monarchs decline is the decrease in milkweed the primary food source of monarchs. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed. 

The destruction of milkweed by the use of the modern systemic herbicide Glyphosate (Roundup) in genetically modified corn, and soybean fields is catastrophic in their fight for survival. Development has also threatened the migration of these beautiful butterflies.  Milkweed plants are being cut down to make room for roads and houses.  The remaining habitat is no longer large enough to maintain the large populations of the 1990s her conditions and disappearing habitats both in their southern wintering grounds and their northern breeding grounds. Last spring unusually cold weather in Texas delayed the butterflies’ spring migration causing them to arrive late in areas where they would have bred. This limited their breeding season and aided in the decline in their numbers in the fall migration.


We can all help the monarchs by planting native milkweed and nectar plants in central Texas and in breeding areas and migration routes. The most successful method to plant native milkweed is to start them from seeds.  Due to their long tap root they are hard to transplant from pots. Look in Texas native seed catalogs to purchase seeds. Tropical Milkweed can be purchased in pots and transplanted directly in the ground.  You must be careful when purchasing plants because most of them have been treated with systemic insecticides which will kill the caterpillars when they feed on them. Be sure and ask before you purchase plants.  

 Nectar plants such as Mistflower, Butterfly Bush, Purple Coneflower, Salvia Coccinea and other Salvias, Woody Bonset Maximillian Sunflower, Lantana, Zinnias and Cosmos will also attract and feed Monarchs and other butterflies to your yard.