General Question

flo's avatar

Should we keep Monarch butterflies from becoming extinct by planting more milkweed and nectar plants?

Asked by flo (10479points) February 23rd, 2014

is one article about it.

here is another one.
Apparently milkweed is the only thing the caterpillars can eat.

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17 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

A great deal easier said than done for anything compelled to winter in today’s Mexico. Perhaps gated “communities” with armed guards are now necessary.

Berserker's avatar

It could be done by attempting to preserve the milkweed plants that the caterpillars feed on. Kind of hard to fight against droughts and illegal deforestation though.
In Canada they make little parks where flowers grow, and those types of flowers are what monarchs feed on. It’s like creating pit stops for them during migration. I’ve seen monarchs in action in one of these small parks. Lasts about three days, but it’s a sight to see. They’re everywhere, and if you sit still for a while, they land all over you.

So if we wanted to help preserve them, I don’t think it’s impossible at all to preserve the needed plants. Milkweed is also a pretty tenacious type of plant, considered a weed by some, so it might be a little easier to maintain than something more fragile. It would, of course, have to be on a much wider scale than those parks I’m talking about, but I’m sure it’s possible.
On the other hand, fucking with nature has often ended with bad results. (introducing new animals to environments and the like, not exactly the same as this) Who knows how this might work out. :/

The article suggests that perhaps the monarch WILL come out of this and the number might return to normal, however if the decrease has been going on for the passed 20 years, that will take time, and if we keep fucking everything up, it might never happen, unless people rig some man made environments for them.

I wonder how this will affect the Viceroy butterfly, which mimics the monarch’s defense system, as one of the article says. It should be mentioned that the viceroy is actually full of good proteins for those birds and insects that are not fooled. If monarchs disappear significantly, will this eventually cause more predators to see passed the viceroy’s disguise, resulting in THAT butterfly’s potential disappearance? (in exchange for healthy birds and other predators?)

The monarch is also not the only migrating butterfly, and Mexico is a popular spot for migrator butterflies. I wonder how this will affect everything, as droughts and deforestation most certainly destroys a lot of plants and flowers that other species need just as much.

LostInParadise's avatar

At some point humanity is going to have to have a hard think about what things we value. There are those who say that other species have a right to exist. I respectfully disagree with this view. Instead we have to ask how much we are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of our ever growing population and ever growing use of technology. Are a few extra i Pads worth the extinction of Monarch butterflies? What kind of a world are we creating where the only natural life would be what we can raise on a farm? It just seems so bleak.

By most accounts we are going through a mass extinction comparable to that of the dinosaurs. There are those who point out that life survived those extinctions, so there is nothing to worry about. Two arguments can be raised against this view. Firstly, the evolution of new species takes a long time. We are talking about hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Secondly, where are these new species supposed to come from. If the world becomes an unending sequence of cities, highways and farms, that does not leave much opportunity for anything to evolve.

non_omnis_moriar's avatar

They gathered in the Blue Mountains in N. Carolina as well as Mexico. There were thousands, now they are rare.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Considering the environmental reputation regarding the current government of North Carolina, they probably concluded that the odds were better in Mexico.

flo's avatar

Thanks everyone.
I left out the key words “nectar plants” and “milkweed” in the title of the OP, so I’m flagging it to edit.

Lakevw9's avatar

It’s a wonderful idea to save the butterflies. My kids love Monarchs and they are so shocked when they hear about any animal species that has become extinct. Save our bugs!!!

flo's avatar

Here is the area that Monarch needs. They really need saving.

kritiper's avatar

ALL species need protection. Except Man.

Coloma's avatar

It would have to be a pretty big effort but yes, it would be nice to see them not become extinct.
Maybe they will be able to adapt before they completely die off, one can hope. I know of a moth species that went through an adaptive color change very quickly to blend with a rapidly changing environment, but changing color is not starving to death for lack of a species specific food. If they do not find a new food source to replace or at least supplement the dwindling milk weed they’re goners.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

I bought milkweed seeds on ebay a few weeks ago. I have a wooded area behind my house which is left wild. I am going to plant the milkweed, but also some flowers to attract them. The caterpillers need the milkweed to survive, but the butterflies can find the plants easiest if they are near a food source for themselves. They lay their eggs under milkweed leaves, because the caterpillers eat nothing else, but once they are butterflies, they go for nectar. I took a monarch caterpiller home once as a girl. It wasn’t more than two days old. Every day I brought it fresh milkweed leaves. It got huge, and fattened out well. I watched it make its crysallis. It was slow, but so fascinating I didn’t want to go to bed. Sometimes it wobbled when there was movement inside. When it popped out (two days early), it was HUGE! I took it outside in a shoebox to turn it loose. It sat on my head for a couple of minutes before getting a scent to take off. It headed straight up the lane where I’d found it on the milkweed plant. It had been one of the most exciting events of my life.
You know, when they are making their great migration south, they fly as high up as a mile.
It took a man almost his entire adult life to track the travels of those little critters, and to learn it takes three generations to make the whole trip. When a young couple found the place in the mountains where the monarchs gather, they called him to let him know. He was an old man, but he just HAD to go see for himself. It was a hard trip for him, but he got to see the spectacle in person. He didn’t live long after. I’m glad he got to make it there to see them first.

flo's avatar

I’m learning a lot from your posts. Thanks.
I have this article to add. It says you can use your balcony even.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

Yes, I’ve seen the article. One could try to grow milkweed on a balcony, but the likelihood any mona4rch will choose it to lay their eggs wold be quite low. Don’t let that discourage you though, if you are compelled to try. Growing flowers as food sources cold be a place they’d visit, but they wouldn’t be likely to lay eggs where there is a lot of activity close by.
It is always nice to see a monarch fan take an interest in keeping them going. I too am shocked by their drastic decline in the recent seasons.
As I said, their are seeds available on ebey. More than one variety of milkweed is available, and some are too toxic for even the monarchs, so anyone buying should be careful what varieties they choose. Some are quite pretty, and could be added to a flower garden without anyone knowing what they are.
I won’t recommend any vendors, because I haven’t bought from any of them before, and I don’t know how reliably their seeds will germinate, but there are some available at very reasonable prices.
Good luck with your efforts!

flo's avatar

@Jonesn4burgers ”...and some are too toxic for even the monarchs, so anyone buying should be careful what varieties they choose. Some are quite pretty, and could be added to a flower garden without anyone knowing what they are.” But why aren’t they banned then for outdoor use? Thanks for the encouragement.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

I am not sure, but I believe they flower pretty. They may have some medicinal use or something. Lots of plants are toxic to critters, and some to humans, but usually the critters know to stay away from them. Nobody bans the planting of plants just because they can’t be eaten by certain things, in fact, some are used as natural repellants around garden areas and homes to keep away pests. Don’t ask me which. I’ve never made a study of it. My grandmother had quite the green thumb, and I’ve heard her speaking on the subject of herbal remedies, plant benefits, invasive plants, and such.
Regarding the milkweed, I doubt any monarch would lay their eggs on an unsuitable plant, but it would be a waste of time, money, planting space if you used a variety they could not eat. I don’t remember the names. I looked up the scientific name for each variety when I ordered seeds, but I didn’t think to write them down anywhere.

flo's avatar

Okay fair enough @Jonesn4burgers.

ibstubro's avatar

Due to a typo in my original question, I was unaware of this question, and sort of duplicated it. Here is a re-print of my latest post, there.

I’m having success in finding and harvesting a good number of milkweed seeds. Today I found the perfect patch: large seeds with a deep, rich coffee color that had nearly weed-free access. And I only saw one bug (a tiny spider)!

Today I ‘picked’ some of the seeds, which is fun for a while (especially if there is a breeze and you get to let the floss fly), but tedious. Today I tried the bag method, and it was all that and a bag of milkweed floss! I used a paper sack from the grocery intended for frozen foods – i.e. a lunch sack as sturdy as a paper grocery bag. Throw the seed pods in, roll the top, and shake , shake, shake. Then cut a hole in one corner about the size of the end of your pinky. Hold the hole over a large bowl or bucket and shake. May not a lot happen at first, but soon seeds will fall. When the seeds get slow, shake (hole up) the bag vigorously and repeat. When I started getting a good part of the seed from the bag, I found it helped to stop and pull whatever floss and stuff that I could out of the hole. Separate any seeds you pull out. Finally, I opened the bag, stuck my hand in, and rolled the remaining floss around in my hand. A final shake over the bowl and I tossed the contents of the bag into the part of my roadside ditch that’s unmowed. I’m giving seeds to some friends, and even mailing them in-country/zone to a Fluther friend or 2.

Today I scouted an areas with 100’s of plants, likely 1,000’s of pods! We need to campaign for less mowing of interstate access ramps and road ditches.

If anyone has any questions about my personal milkweed plant project, feel free to PM. I’m starting to get a feel for where they live and how to harvest them.

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