Monarch butterflies are a vibrant American-native species renowned for their striking colors and incredible migrations. While these beautiful winged creatures have historically been found across North America, their numbers have declined rapidly in the past few decades. Some sources report that populations are currently down nearly 90% from where they once were.
This decline is due to the destruction of their fundamental food source, milkweed. Why do Monarchs need milkweed? Milkweed plays a critical role in the survival of the Monarch butterfly population as it is the only plant Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on. This is because milkweed leaves contain chemicals called cardenolides that are toxic to most other animals but not Monarch larvae. Therefore, these cardenolides are protective to the delicate butterfly eggs. Once hatched, by consuming milkweed, the larvae accumulate these toxic compounds in their bodies, making them inedible to most predators. The larvae develop coloration, a process known as aposematism, meaning they use bright coloration to warn predators of their toxicity.
Not only is milkweed the sole food source for Monarch butterfly larvae, but it also feeds adult butterflies. Not only is milkweed the sole food source for Monarch butterfly larvae, but it also feeds adult butterflies. Monarchs rely on the rich nectar for the abundance of energy they need to make their long migrations south each winter.
Unfortunately, milkweed is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Herbicides and pesticides used in big agriculture are reducing these once flourishing plants, along with the destruction of natural habitats as development pushes into natural areas where milkweed has traditionally grown. In addition, fluctuating climates and more intensive weather patterns have affected the availability of milkweed and, without milkweed, Monarch butterflies cannot survive. Without this essential plant, Monarch butterfly populations cannot survive.
Efforts are being made to protect milkweed and restore its population. Many conservation organizations are working to create habitats for Monarch butterflies by planting milkweed and other native plants to help maintain healthy ecosystems.
The importance of milkweed for America’s Monarchs goes far beyond their single survival. Monarch butterflies are considered a keystone species. They are vital pollinators, critical for the health of many plant species which in turn, support other butterflies, bees and birds. Without the Monarchs, the ecosystem would suffer and many other plant species could also become endangered.
Along with their ecological importance, Monarchs have a rich cultural heritage. Many indigenous cultures throughout the Americas have traditional stories and beliefs centered around these butterflies. They are considered symbols of transformation and rebirth, and their presence is celebrated from Canada to Central and South America.
The decline in Monarch butterfly survival is a significant cause for concern throughout the Americas, and Bentley Seeds Company is helping to protect their primary food source, milkweed. We have developed a series of varieties that are conducive to each individual growing zone, making it easy for you to find the best choice for your region.
Planting milkweed and creating sanctuary habitats for Monarch butterflies is critical in preserving this beautiful species. By taking action to support milkweed and Monarch butterflies, we can make a difference in their conservation and contribute to the biodiversity of native plants across the country.