Milkweed


I know.  It is a pest.  It is ugly, does not have any pretty red or yellow flowers, so WTF, just cut it down and be happy with pretty flower beds and a nice green lawn.

Well, I have known for some years that the milkweed plant is vital to the survival of the monarch butterfly.  From the Monarch Butterfly website

Did you know that the monarch butterflies that live in North America migrate? Monarch butterflies are the only insect to migrate up to 2,500 miles to get out of the cold weather and hibernate. But not allmonarch butterflies migrate; only the fourth generation of monarchs can migrate each year because the first three generations die after about six weeks from escaping their cocoons.

Did you know that monarch butterflies go through four generations each year? The first three generations hatch from their cocoon state (also known as the pupa or chrysalis state) and live for up to six weeks, but the fourth generation continues to live on for up to six or eight months so that they can migrate to a warmer climate, hibernate, and then start a new first generation in the spring time.

Female monarch butterflies have several hundred eggs to lay during their short life in the spring time. Monarch butterfly larvae eat milkweed and they need them to live. Did you know that milkweed plants are being cut down to make roads and houses and the monarch butterfly population is decreasing because of this? Conservationists are working hard to bring back the milkweeds so that monarch butterflies have a place to live and grow.

Most people think that monarch butterflies only have two life stages, the cocoon and the butterfly stages. But monarch butterflies actually go through four stages in their life cycle. They start out as an egg, then hatch into larvae (a caterpillar), and then wrap up in the cocoon, and then they go through the metamorphosis into a butterfly while they are in the cocoon. You can see a diagram of the monarch life cycle that you can color in here.

Once a monarch butterfly is an adult (after the metamorphosis into a full grown butterfly) it can eat the nectar from any flower, not just the milkweed plant. Only the caterpillars need the milkweed plant to live.

Did you know that monarch butterflies are poisonous? They won’t harm humans, but the chemicals from the milkweed plant that they eat when they are in the larvae stage builds up inside of them and gives them a poisonous defense against predators like frogs, birds, mice and lizards.

Do you know how to tell a male from a female monarch butterfly? The male monarchs have a black spot on each of the hind wings over a vein. The female monarch butterfly does not have this spot. Many people think that only the male monarch butterfly is beautiful, but that is simply not true. Every monarch butterfly is beautiful.

So, with that introduction where do we go from here.  Reading a post a couple of weeks ago by Yellow Dog at They Gave Us A Republic I was shocked to find that

Another study published int he journal Crop Protection and conducted by Robert G Hartzler, an agronomist at Iowa State, found that milkweed on farms in Iowa declined 90 percent from 1999 to 2009. Additionally, his study found milkweed only on 8 percent of corn and soybean fields surveyed in 2009, which is 51 percent lower than in 1999.

Milkweed is vital when the Monarch is in the caterpillar stage.  Here is a picture I took in our backyard last August

After reading YD’s post about habitat disappearing, I decided to nurture and protect all the milkweed growing on our little piece of ground.  It isn’t much and it may not save the Monarch, but I am doing something.  It is a start.

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