I want to go outside the shelter realm this week and talk about a creature that we would all like to see reproduce in abundance – not something you would normally hear me say in this column!
It’s almost time for the monarch butterflies to start laying their eggs along the edges of many roads in the rural parts of South Jersey and much of North America. The monarch population is in a spiraling decline and actually below the threshold for possible extinction. These beautiful butterflies spend the colder months in Mexico and this past winter’s count showed a 53 percent decline, a devastating failure in an already compromised population. monarch butterflies on pink milkweed flowers in rural wetlands.
One of the biggest issues for these insects is, as is the case for so many wild creatures, the loss of habitat. The female monarch butterfly lays its eggs solely on milkweed plants. They will do this in the months of July and August in our area. In our climate zone, they can mate as many as seven times in this two-month period. The eggs take anywhere from three to 15 days to hatch into larvae. The larvae feed on the milkweed for a couple of weeks then attach themselves to a twig, form a chrysalis and in another two weeks, viola! A gorgeous creature emerges! The adults live from two to six weeks and become the next cog in the wheel of their life and migration cycle.
So, why you may wonder, am I talking to you about butterflies instead of pets? I believe that most of you who follow this column are nature lovers in general. As such, it’s important to us to be advocates of all living creatures and in the case of the peril of the monarch butterfly, there’s actually something easy to do that will help their cause … DON’T MOW THE MILKWEED DOWN!!!
The roads near my house boarder many a farm field, one directly across the street. The milkweed is growing nicely right now and is ripe for the butterflies’ convergence. Last year’s crop was teeming with all sorts of them; flitting images of all colors foraging for food among the milkweed and wildflowers bordering the field.
Imagine my distress when I came home one day in the middle of July to find that the township had mowed down the entire habitat from one end of the road to the other. Aside from the tremendous waste of tax dollars mowing a road that is dominated by farm fields and with only 10 residences, many with naturalized property lines; I was sick thinking about how this is undoubtedly being played out over and over along the edges of thousands upon thousands of miles of highways and bi-ways all across the country.
The patch of habitat close to me is only about a mile long and 10 feet deep. It doesn’t seem like much in the scheme of things, but if I can stop that area from being mowed it’s well worth the effort. A single female monarch lays anywhere from 300 to 500 eggs during July and August, so whatever my little mile long patch can produce, it’s a step in the right direction for the population of these beautiful creatures.
There’s a plethora of information on monarchs and their habitats on the internet as well pictures that will help you identify different types of milkweed. Many garden centers sell some of the decorative milkweeds that make great, colorful additions to your own gardens. Aside from protecting any habitat in your control, take a few minutes to send an email to your county freeholders and municipal leaders on the subject; they’re always looking for ways to save money; this is an easy one!