Reviving Monarch Butterfly Habitats
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One of North America’s Most Iconic Creatures
The life cycle and journey of the monarch butterfly is nothing short of amazing. Across multiple generations, monarchs make a 6,000-mile journey from Mexico in the spring, to the U.S. and Canada in the summer and back to Mexico in the fall.
Every fall, millions of monarchs travel thousands of miles from the central and eastern United States and Canada to central Mexico, where they overwinter at heights of 10,000 feet or more above sea level. While most monarchs only live for two to six weeks, this generation of monarchs will live for several months before they migrate back north to lay their eggs in early spring.
The Importance of Milkweed to the Great Migration
As monarchs return north in the spring, they lay their eggs along the migration route to give way to new generations before the fall. The diet of monarch caterpillars consists solely of milkweed, which is also where monarchs exclusively lay their eggs, making it essential to their survival. After the caterpillar pupates and becomes an adult monarch, it will then feed on a more diverse assortment of nectar plants.
Four to five generations of adult monarchs will be produced on the northward journey that spans from spring until late summer. The final generation produced in late summer will be the one to make the return journey south to Mexico during the fall. During this migration, the adults will feed exclusively on nectar.
Unfortunately, the monarch butterfly population has declined over the past two decades. Many factors, including the loss of milkweed in the United States, habitat loss in the Mexican forests, climate change and weather events are all thought to contribute to annual variations. Fortunately, monarchs are a resilient species. Even better, those of us in agriculture can play an important role in the effort to increase the monarch population. Helping monarchs has other benefits too as monarch habitat can support multiple other species including honeybees, native bees, and songbirds.
Collaborating with Others
To enhance the habitat for the monarch butterfly and other pollinators, Bayer is collaborating with conservation groups, academic experts, farmers and government agencies across North America to find meaningful and proactive ways to help these important pollinators thrive. For instance, in 2015, we announced a multi-year commitment with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help monarch butterflies, and since that time, we have contributed over $5 million to partner with and support the efforts of experts working to benefit monarch butterflies and other pollinators. By working together, we can do more to efficiently move the needle.
Learn more about Bayer’s collaborations and partnerships in “Reviving Habitats for North America’s Iconic Monarch Butterfly”.
What can you do to help the monarchs?
Have a green thumb? Individuals, schools or community groups can establish monarch butterfly and pollinator gardens. If you want to help, be sure to plant milkweed and colorful, pollinator-attractant wildflowers that will keep your garden buzzing to foster the monarch’s migratory route.
While milkweed will ensure a readily available food source for monarch caterpillars and adult butterflies, planting milkweed is also a great way to help other pollinators, as it provides nectar to bees and butterflies. There are several botanical and community gardens that provide further information and tips that you can use for planting a monarch butterfly-friendly garden in your specific geographical area.
Additionally, individuals can become community scientists by studying and collecting data from monarchs or can simply use their voice and social media presence to raise awareness about this amazing species. You may also want to download HabiTally, an app hosted by Iowa State University that enables private citizens to enter data about Monarch habitat conservation efforts on their farms or in their yard.
As a healthy habitat is vital for biodiversity and biodiversity is critical to a sustainable agriculture system, we can all do our part to be good stewards of the land. In particular, farmers and ranchers live and farm the land that includes much of the historical monarch habitat, putting them in a unique position to increase monarch habitat in concert with productive agriculture and livestock operations.
Evolution of modern agricultural practices driven by breeding and crop protection advances, and guided by data science satellite technologies, are helping to reduce environmental impacts, increase crop productivity and enable monarch conservation efforts. Furthermore, farmers can plant milkweed along sprinkler heads, creek beds, or non-productive places along the farm to increase monarch butterfly habitats in the ground. Incentives, cost-sharing and conservation programs are available in several states along the monarchs’ migration route to help maintain a healthy, diverse ecosystem.
We can all do our part to support monarch populations and their incredible migration. Together, we can ensure the future of this important species is a bright one.
You can find more perspective from Bayer scientists here: