It’s peak butterfly season in Arizona, and this is the time of year when you’re most likely to see Monarch butterflies traveling through your garden as they migrate to California or Mexico for the winter. No other butterfly in the world migrates the way that the monarch butterflies do, which makes this seasonal event quite an enchanting spectacle. As Monarch populations continue to dwindle, however, this natural phenomenon may disappear completely. Learn what you can do to help save the Monarchs and their amazing migration in this week’s blog.
Back in July, while writing an article about butterfly plants, I was surprised to discover that I didn’t have a single photo of a Monarch butterfly. Queen butterflies, which look very similar to monarchs, make hundreds of appearances throughout my photo files, but not even one Monarch was caught in crosshairs of my camera’s viewfinder in the past three years. Considering how much of that time was spent hiding out in butterfly bushes with my camera, this realization was quite shocking. It was a testament to what we’ve been hearing more and more about Monarch butterflies; that their populations are dangerously low.
In 1998, when scientists first began measuring Monarch populations, their numbers were estimated to cover about 44 acres. Today, the Monarch population covers only about 1.56 acres!
Their population decline is largely due to habitat loss. Urban sprawl and widespread use of herbicides means that there are fewer native milkweeds and recognizable nectar sources to sustain Monarchs as they make their long migrations.
Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed, as this is the only plant that the baby caterpillars will eat. These same plants also provide a great source of nectar for the traveling adults. Monarch rescue organizations, like Monarch Joint Venture, recommend planting native species of milkweed, such as Asclepias subulata, in close proximity to other great nectar plants such as Buddleia marrubifolia. By grouping some of their favorite plants together, you can create a Monarch waystation that will provide migrating Monarchs with everything they need on their long journey. Once you’ve planted your milkweeds and nectar plants, be sure to tell your friends and neighbors that they can make a difference, too!
If you’re interested in learning more about Monarchs, here are some quick links to the best information I’ve found online!
- Learn more about their unique and amazing migration
- About their life cycle: Quick and easy version, and a more in-depth biology
- How to tell a Queen butterfly from a Monarch
- A list of the best nectar plants (this list is nation-wide, so we can’t grow every plant on the list, but we can grow quite a few)
- Recommended milkweed species by region
- Larval host plants listed by the type of butterfly they attract
- Certify your garden as a Monarch waystation