Protecting Monarch Butterflies

Learn about the ways the Land Trust is helping to protect and conserve monarch butterflies, then discover the different ways you can help!

 

Did you know there are more than 100 species of butterflies in Central Oregon? One of these is the magnificent monarch butterfly. These darlings of the butterfly world are best known for their incredible migration journey, but are also unfortunately becoming known for their struggles in a changing world.

Monarchs are directly linked to milkweed plants. Female monarch butterflies lay their eggs ONLY on milkweed leaves; if there is no milkweed around when they are ready to lay eggs, they simply won't lay eggs. Milkweed is also the only food that monarch caterpillars eat on their way to transforming into a butterfly. Of all the plants from which monarchs sip nectar as adult butterflies, milkweed makes up about 1/3 of their food. Milkweed is absolutely critical to monarchs, from egg to caterpillar to adult butterfly.

Every year, Western monarch butterflies migrate from as far north as Canada down to southern California, where they overwinter. This amazing feat is made possible by having milkweed along the entire migration route.

A monarch emerges from its chrysalis. Photo: Land Trust.
A monarch emerges from its chrysalis. Photo: Land Trust.
Western monarchs overwinter on the southern California coast for several reasons. The wet air helps prevent them from drying out. Eucalyptus trees and palms can support their large overwintering populations. Temperatures don't fluctuate much.

But monarchs are in trouble. As recently as the 1990's, more than 1 million monarchs were recorded overwintering in southern California. In the winter of 2017-18, around 150,000 monarchs were counted. This past winter, a startling 20,456 monarchs were recorded. Why are their populations dwindling so drastically?

Habitat loss is a big factor in monarch population declines. Without milkweed available, monarchs simply cannot survive. In Central Oregon, we have two types of native milkweed--showy and narrowleaf. Narrowleaf has been almost completely removed from our area, and showy milkweed is found in limited numbers. Another factor is harmful pesticides, including neonicotinoids. All pollinators are struggling to a certain extent because of the pesticides that are sprayed and then ingested by pollinators when drinking nectar.

Climate change is also a struggle for the specialized monarch. Changes in weather means larger storms during the winter in southern California, affecting their survival. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also changing a compound found in milkweed, which could meant that the milkweed of the future is inedible to monarchs.

But don't despair! The Land Trust is ready to help monarchs survive! We have been planting native milkweed at our Preserves to ensure that monarchs have something to lay eggs on and to eat. We have also planted native flowers that monarchs use for nectar, ensuring that adult butterflies have the energy to continue their migration. Last year, Stewardship Director Amanda Egertson also attended a rearing workshop and learned how to raise monarch butterflies. She then released the monarchs she raised at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve and other areas in Central Oregon. Responsible captive rearing can help more monarch eggs reach adulthood.

 

What can you do to help protect and conserve monarch butterflies?


Volunteers plant milkweed at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Land Trust.
Volunteers plant milkweed at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Photo: Land Trust.
Western monarch butterflies play a critical role as pollinators, but their populations are currently declining. How can we work together to protect this iconic species?

  1. Plant Native Milkweed! Local milkweed can be purchased at Wintercreek Restoration & Nursery in Bend and Clearwater Native Plant Nursery in Redmond. Make sure to only plant the local showy milkweed and narrowleaf milkweed. If you are growing showy milkweed from seed, read up on milkweed planting instructions.
  2. Plant Native Blooms. Monarchs need nectar once they are adults, so planting a variety of flowers that will bloom throughout the summer and into the fall helps monarchs continue their migrations. Check out the Monarch Advocates of Central Oregon's list of Hearty Native Blooms.
  3. Become a Citizen Scientist. Get involved with monarch advocate groups to help track, educate, and advocate for our monarchs! Start with the Monarch Advocates of Central Oregon (MACO), Xerces Society, and Monarch Joint Venture.
  4. Join the Land Trust! We are committed to doing our part to help monarchs. This includes planting native milkweed and other native flowers at our Preserves, pulling non-native weeds, and keeping an eye out for monarch eggs. Help with these projects or become a member of the Land Trust today!

 

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