Society

Monarchs are on the move north

SHAWN WALTON

March signals the start of the Monarch butterfly migration from their winter roosting place in Michoacán, known as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, northward into the United States. The females have nurtured eggs all winter. These eggs were fertilized before they made their fall migration to Mexico. They have lived for the past eight months, preparing for their second migration in the spring, which brings them to Texas to lay their eggs on the milkweed plant, and then die. It takes two generations to complete the northward journey, each living just four to six weeks.

By April the caterpillars will be emerging. They live up to three weeks, feasting on milkweed before they pupate and form green chrysalides with gold spots. A little over a week later the adult Monarch will emerge. Monarchs are very much at risk because of habitat loss. Over ninety percent of milkweed grows in areas where herbicides are used to control weeds.

Milkweed is an extremely important plant to the Monarch. Its presence, or lack thereof, could determine the Monarch’s ability to survive as a species. If you aren’t sure what milkweed looks like, go to www.texasento.net/Asclepias. htm.

At the same time, the planting of herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans that have been genetically modified to resist non-selective herbicides allows growers to spray fields instead of tilling to control weeds. Milkweeds survive tilling but not the herbicide. The Journey North organization, which tracks Monarch migrations, is asking for the help of the public. They would like to know when people see the first Milkweed plant, the first Monarch butterfly, the first egg,and the first caterpillars. They are yellow, white and black striped. Report your sightings at: www.learner.org/cgi-bin/jnorth/jn-sightings.

We can help Monarchs survive by planting Monarch Way stations that provide the milkweed for the larvae, as well as nectar-producing plants and water for the adults. Go to www.monarchwatch.org for how you can get your garden certified as an official Monarch Way Station. These way stations can also serve other butterfly species. You can have a beautiful flowering garden that attracts all kinds of butterfly species, as well as other pollinators. In terms of butterflies, you will need to supply plants for both caterpillars and butterflies.

Milkweed is a required plant for attracting Monarch butterflies. Of course, each butterfly species has its preference for a particular plant, but a good general list of larval plants include the white and blue mistflower, lantana, butterfly weed, Mexican mint marigold, passionflower, even different herbs like dill and fennel.

Caterpillar is a four letter word to some people. Just make sure if you choose to have a butterfly garden that you are willing to share some of your food or landscape plants with the caterpillars. Also, it’s sometimes hard to tell what caterpillar is going to turn into a butterfly and which ones are just pests. Butterfly caterpillars are usually solitary or spaced widely apart. Pest caterpillars make tents and hatch in the hundreds.

Plan a garden that will bloom throughout the spring and summer. Adults are attracted to hot colored, fragrant flowers. They also like fermenting fruit, like bananas. A source of water, or moisture, is also important.

It’s impossible to make a mistake when planting a butterfly garden. Use a variety of different plants, including herbs, flowers, shrubs, and vines. walton.shawn@gmail.com


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2011-03-10 digital edition



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