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Monarch butterflies are in trouble; Here’s how you can help

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a butterfly. My money says that the fluttering insect you envision has reddish-orange wings with black veins edged with white spots—the iconic attributes of our beloved American monarch butterfly.

Unfortunately, the species that populates many childhood memories is in trouble.

The migrating monarch butterfly was last week added to the “red list” of threatened species and categorized as “threatened” for the first time by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That’s two steps from extinction in the wild.

Scientists have blamed the decline in monarch numbers on habitat loss, climate change and the use of pesticides and herbicides.

What can home gardeners do to support the monarch?

If everyone reading this planted a milkweed plant, the benefit would be palpable. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is the only plant monarch caterpillars eat, and it is where the adult butterflies lay their eggs. Without it, the species simply could not exist.

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“But not all milkweed is created equal,” says Dawn Rodney, chief innovation and growth officer at the National Wildlife Federation in Reston, Virginia. For example, “there’s an invasive species called milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) that we’re seeing more and more and people don’t realize is doing more harm than good.”

The non-native plant is problematic because it blooms longer and does not die back in temperate areas. This can prevent the butterflies from recognizing when it is time to migrate and can spread deadly parasites to the next year’s caterpillar generation.

To choose the right milkweed, use the National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder (https://www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder/).

Adult monarchs also need other plants, particularly those with nectar-bearing flowers. The National Wildlife Federation also has a Monarch Nectar Plant List Tool (https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/About/Native-Plants/Monarch-Nectar-Guides) developed with the Monarch Joint Venture and Xerces Society to find plants suitable for your location.

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Choose plants native to your region for the highest quality food source. Be sure to include late-season flowering plants to provide monarchs with fuel for their annual fall migration.

Knowing the source of the plants you buy is also important.

“There are a lot of growers that use different types of chemicals that are harmful to wildlife,” Rodney said, referring to pesticides and herbicides designed to keep plants attractive on retail shelves. When you bring the treated plants home and the butterflies lay eggs on them, the caterpillars that follow will die when they chew on the leaves.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are particularly harmful to the species, Rodney said, because they can kill bees and adult butterflies that ingest the toxic pollen and nectar from treated plants.

Since treated plants are not labeled as such, Rodney advises asking garden center staff about their pest control practices. Buying only from trusted organic sources or growing your own plants from seed are other good options.

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This brings me to the use of pesticides in the home garden. When we use chemicals on our plants, we treat the beneficial insects, including monarchs, as collateral damage. We also endanger the birds that eat these poisonous insects.

Even natural and organic pesticides can harm butterflies and other pollinators. But if you must use such a product, stick to insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, or Neem oil, and apply them only after dusk when pollinators are not active. Unlike many synthetic chemicals, these products lose their effectiveness when they dry, so the butterflies will be safer until morning.

Finally, consider going the extra mile by creating a butterfly bathing station: Make a mud puddle (or add water to sand) in a sunny spot in the yard and place a flat stone in it. The butterflies will sun themselves on the stone to raise their temperature and drink water from the puddle to supplement their nectar diet with the salts, vitamins and minerals they need.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.

Monarch butterflies are in trouble; Here’s how you can help

Source link Monarch butterflies are in trouble; Here’s how you can help

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