Five Surprising Ways to Help Save Monarch Butterflies
Updated: Jul 28
Recently, I was asked, "What can a "regular homeowner" do to help monarchs migrate North and South?"
What a great question! Of course, the easy answer is plant and protect milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's host plant, but there is so much more we can do. Everyday, we make choices that either help or hurt the monarchs and their iconic migration.
Here are five surprising ways you can help monarchs and one obvious action you can take today:
1. Eat GRASS FED meat born and raised in the United States. Saving the prairies and grasslands are critical. The grasslands are the most important ecosystem to monarch butterflies and it needs grazing animals to stay healthy. Most cattle, bison, sheep, and chickens, won't eat milkweed so monarch caterpillars are not at risk of being eaten by grazers. In some states, over 99% of their grasslands have been converted to monocrop agriculture leading to a significant loss in biodiversity and habitat for monarchs and other wildlife.
2. Turn off outside lights at night. For both bugs and birds artificial lights disturb migration and navigation as well as wakefulness/sleep cycles. Learn more about light pollution and its affect on wildlife at Dark Sky.
3. Look for milkweed in your community and educate those around you about its importance as the sole food source of monarch butterflies. Warning: once you start looking it's difficult to stop! Talk to roadside managers and maintenance crews about the timing of mowing areas that contain milkweed. For more information, the Monarch Joint Venture has a helpful guide about maintaining community monarch habitat found on roadsides and parks.
4. Talk to children about the monarch migration and life cycle. You never know who you might inspire. As Baba Dioum said, "For in the end, we will only conserve what we love; we will only love what we understand; we will only understand what we are taught." Ecological literacy and stewardship of Nature are keystones to environmental health. Getting children hands on experience with monarchs and the local ecosystem will give them the tools necessary to champion monarchs and other wildlife into the future.
5. Use products made from sustainably harvested milkweed materials. Milkweed was used extensively for food, medicine, cosmetics, clothing, bedding and shelter for thousands of years. In the 1940's university scientists deemed milkweed as an uncooperative plant unsuitable for agriculture. At Monarch Flyway, we work with Nature and communities to provide milkweed materials to companies interested in innovation and ecologically beneficial products. Right now, there are just a few milkweed products on the market which are offered by Ogallala Comfort, Monarch Botanika, and Milkweed Balm, but more are on the way.
And now, I offer you the obvious answer:
1. Plant NATIVE milkweed and nectar plants in the space in which you control. Even if it is potted plants on a balcony at an apartment, your choices matter. Remember, every hero and villain has a part to play in the ecosystem. You will see bugs all over your milkweed plants. Do not try to "fix" it. Nature works at creating balance and just because it may not be a monarch, doesn't mean it should not be there. Aphids are the main food source of ladybugs and LOVE covering milkweed, do not take action against them. Reduce chemicals and enjoy the show, even if it makes you cry sometimes. I remember seeing monarch wings on the ground with a praying mantis finishing off its last bite of monarch body and, I cried and resisted the urge to retaliate or "protect" other possible victims from its clutches. A lesson in the circle of life.
We can do so much to help monarchs go from endangered to plentiful again. In 2021, there was a 35% increase in overwintering monarchs in Mexico. While we are not where we want to be in terms of population size, our everyday actions can go a long way to help their recovery.