Click on the National Geographic video above to learn about the amazing 2000 mile annual migration of the Monarch butterfly.
Vermonters over 10 years old will remember the colorful Monarch butterflies that used to grace our fields and backyards every summer and fall. But unfortunately, many young children have never even seen a Monarch. What a shame! I remember when Kendall and Riley were in grammar school we used to bring their entire class to a field across from the school playground and every child would find a Monarch caterpillar to watch as it went through metamorphosis (the inset above shows Kendall with a Monarch that has just emerged from it's chrysalis and is waiting for it's wings to dry before it's first flight). That was only 10 years ago and now there's nary a Monarch to be found in all of Vermont.
Could Vermont's state butterfly be heading toward extinction?
Recently a legal petition was filed seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies. "Monarchs are in a deadly free fall. The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Milkweed: The Monarch's Elixir of Life
Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed and it is the only plant on which the butterflies will lay their eggs. But over the last several years, milkweed has been eradicated by the increased use of herbicides on genetically modified corn and soybean crops (GMO's). This is the only field of milkweed I could find in Vernon today.
"Fewer monarch butterflies are crossing North America to winter in Mexico, and the biggest culprit seems to be the disappearance of milkweed in the United States" according to Lindsay N Smith's recent article in National Geographic. "Although illegal deforestation and severe weather have contributed to the decline, research... suggests that the overwhelming concern is U.S. farms' large-scale use of herbicides that destroy milkweed."
It's hard to believe that milkweed has nearly disappeared from Vermont's landscape in just a few short years. In the Green Mountain State, corn crops are everywhere and along the edges of those fields, we used to find lots of Monarch caterpillars feeding on milkweed. Not anymore. The Midwest has lost much of it's milkweed too, as more land is being planted with (GMO) corn and soy to meet the world's increasing demands for biofuels.
Monsanto and Round Up
The Monarch’s decline is being driven by the widespread use of genetically engineered crops that are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in corn and soybean fields.
Sean, Douglas, Loryn and Michelle are preparing milkweed seeds to be donated to the seedbank at Monarch Watch.
Those of us who eat corn or soy (or any of the foods that contain them) can't very well blame the farmers for milkweed's eradication. So scientists, conservationists, and butterfly enthusiasts are encouraging road crews and property owners to grow the plant in their own yards, gardens and along roadsides. Are you up for that? If you need seeds, visit us at Stonehurst and we'll give you as many as you'd like. You can also contact the Monarch Watch Seed Bank where you can donate or request seeds. Directions for planting milkweed seed can be found at LiveMonarch.com. Vermonters can support Elizabeth Howard and her Journey North organization by reporting their sightings online. Together and with a little help from Mother Nature we can bring back the Monarchs!
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