A Monarch caterpillar on Tropical Milkweed in my yard.
The Monarch is another species in trouble due to habitat loss, both in the U.S. and Mexico. This is the only migrating butterfly and it’s dependent on habitat from the Canadian border to the Sierra Madres of Mexico.
Oklahoma is especially important because each fall the fourth generation hatches here. Most Monarchs live only a couple of weeks as adults, but the fourth generation flies all the way to the wintering grounds in Mexico and lives until spring to begin the migration north and renew their successive generation life cycle.
The key to Monarch survival is their larval food– milkweed. They won’t lay their eggs on anything else and their caterpillars can’t ingest any other food. The alkaloids in milkweed make the caterpillars mildly poisonous to birds and remain in their bodies as adults. Milkweed is the Monarch’s defense system and the limiting factor in its population. Ninety-percent of milkweed/Monarch habit occurs in agricultural sites, so that is obviously the greatest influence on their populations. Still, it doesn’t matter if you own a 50,000 acre spread or a city lot, the best thing you can do for the Monarchs as an individual is to set aside a
A Monarch chrysalis about ready to emerge. Photos by L. Dillon.
little space for milkweed as well as nectar plants on your property. If we are to stop declining Monarch populations we must create ‘Monarch Waystations’ in our home gardens, schools, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers, greenbelts, along roadsides and on any other unused parcel of land.
Milkweed is a little hard to find. Your best bet is local nurseries, especially those specializing in native plants. I’ve had success at finding it at the Cleveland County Farmers Market. I have Tropical Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Weed growing on my postage-stamp size lot. I don’t know how much difference I make in the scheme of things, but I know I produce caterpillars each fall and I’ve done what I can. That’s about all any of us can do.
You can find the answer to about any question on Monarchs at http://monarchwatch.org/
The just-emerged butterfly. Wings haven’t hardened yet. Click photos to enlarge.