In Houston we are very fortunate to see Monarch butterflies, (Danaus plexippus) they are also known as the milkweed butterfly (subfamily Danainae) in the family Nymphalidae. It is probably the most well-known butterfly in the United States. The monarch, an insect with a body the size and weight of a paper clip can migrate 1,500 miles, is famous for its southward autumn migration from the United States and southern Canada to Mexico and coastal California, and its northward return in spring, which occurs over the lifespans of three to four generations of the butterfly. Newly hatched pupa fly to specific overwintering site, miraculously a trip it has never taken before. They return north in spring to reproduce. From egg to larva to pupa to adult, butterfly metamorphosis is fascinating to children and adults. Scientists still don’t understand the journey of monarch migration — how successive generations of butterflies are able to navigate to a place they’ve never been before. For more information – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_butterfly
The IMAX movie, Flight of the Butterfly tells the story of the long search by the scientist to unlock the secret of the butterflies’ migration.”
Here is a book I recommend to share with children.
A free down loadable page of the lifestyle of a Monarch for children to color – http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/monarch-life-cycle-coloring.html
Why do the monarchs need our help? You have may have heard their populations are declining during the past decade and no one is sure of the reason why. Scientists believe this is not a short term phenomenon caused by specific weather events, such as drought or hurricanes. They had thought a main cause was and the loss of forests in their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Recent studies suggest it is actually a long term problem due to the increasing use of planting of genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans in the Midwest — and the associated huge increase in herbicide spraying has killed off the native milkweeds historically found in abundance in and around farmers’ fields, removing a tremendous amount of monarch habitat. Added to that we have suburban sprawl, this takes away 2.2 million acres of habitat a year.
What can gardeners do to help? You can make your landscape friendly to monarchs throughout their life-cycle by creating places to lay eggs, sip nectar, or find shelter. Plant milkweed the only plant the caterpillars will eat. Be sure and plants flowers to feed the Monarchs once they become adults. They love nectar rich flowers like asters, black-eyed Susan, purple cone-flowers and zinnias. Make sure the butterflies have a place to drink. Put out a dish of damp sand or dig a patch of bare soil and keep it moist. Consider being a Monarch Waystation. Go organic and minimize your use of pesticides. Pesticides kill the beneficial insects along with the pests. Here is a good article on beneficial insects, http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/meet-beneficial-insects
For a local source of milkweed try Joshua’s Native plants. He has pesticide free Milk weed in one gallon pots.
Here are three great sources from which I gleaned information for this post and where you can learn more about saving the Monarchs: