Ever since I came to the US, I’ve been awed by Monarch butterflies. First, I found their beauty astounding and when I learned their story, I was hooked.
The Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle
A monarch’s life is one of enormous transformation. They start as an egg, then emerge as a very hungry caterpillar. But they only eat milkweed leaves—more on that later. After 10-14 days of munching the caterpillar forms a chrysalis. Inside, the caterpillar’s body breaks down and forms a kind of DNA soup. You can actually see it through the chrysalis wall. The cells completely restructure and then the magic happens when a fully-formed butterfly emerges in all its glory.
I was lucky enough to see it happen last year. I watched it break free of its confinement and hang for several minutes while its beautiful wings dried and expanded. Then it left fluttering and soaring as if it had been flying all its life. I wondered if it had any memory of being a fat, crawling caterpillar laboriously covering one inch at a time. I wonder if it was thinking to itself, “I like this much better!”
Monarch Butterfly Migration
But that isn’t all that’s epic about Monarchs. Absorb this. These butterflies undergo a highly evolved migration covering 3,000 miles from a forest in Mexico to far northern places including my backyard and back again. They do this over the course of three generations. When they gather, in the forests of Central Mexico, how many butterflies gather? About three hundred million!! Yes, three hundred million.
However, they are threatened. The reason Monarchs migrate is that they can’t survive in the cold and they have to find warmer climes. Unfortunately, these are also areas where humans like to live so forests are being targeted for roads and housing developments. No place for the Monarch to rest and breed.
At home, the only food source for the hungry caterpillar, Milkweed, is killed by farmers with weed killer solutions.
How We Help!
This is where we can help. Plant Milkweed! It’s quite lovely on its own even without the thrill of watching Monarchs hovering over it. It has beautiful flowers and they turn into picturesque pods that split and release seeds with silky threads similar to dandelions.
“But where do I get the seeds?”
I have the answer. We’re supporting the non-profit organization Save our Monarchs. Started by Ward and Ann Johnson, their goal is to sell Milkweed seeds to as many people as have a place to grow them. In 2017, they distributed 2,600,000 seed packets.