People usually think of the coastlines when they think of the migration paths of the Monarch Butterfly, especially since they are known to over winter in Santa Cruz, CA, but the migration route of this large, graceful butterfly includes the entire state of Nevada. In fact, the original migration path included all of North America! August is their time of migratory travel, as they move from the north to the south in a single journey for the future of the species.
It's sad, but true, the Monarch Butterfly is disappearing.
The Monarch Butterfly is a beneficial Insect. It helps pollinate flowers and fruit in your garden and is simply a beautiful sight to see. Once considered essential in the summer time life of every Canadian, American and Mexican kid (and those who are always and forever kids at heart), the Monarch Butterfly holds a very special place in the folklore of western cultures. They turn whole landscapes into vibrating color. With the power of instant playfulness, they demand our attention, eyes following their soft acrobatic motion from flower to flower. It's considered a blessing and good luck if one appears at an August wedding, and they also possess the magic to make dogs dance.
The Monarch is attracted to your flowers, but it needs Milkweed to survive. They incessantly search for Milkweed to lay their eggs upon its leaves. The resulting caterpillars will eat only one thing: Milkweed.
When we were kids, there were stories about the pulsating, vibrating rivers of Monarch Butterflies that once rippled north to south and south to north across the entire United States, from Canada to the deep interiors of Mexico. Those were the stories: the mighty migrating swarms of orange and black spotted wings. People would see forests from afar and think it was suddenly autumn, but no, it was the Monarchs, so many you could actually hear the breeze of millions and millions of wings beating the warm summer air in mass. And dogs would stop chasing their tales and children would be set aloft on the wings of Monarch butterflies.
When we were kids, who knows what went wrong, but stories of their demise and decimation began, too. Was it DDT? Was it middle school science class? Or industrial chemicals, freeways, suburban sprawl, backyard pesticides? We might agree that all things contribute to the whole (problem), but one thing seems certain: the primary source of food for the Monarch -- Milkweed -- is becoming ever more scarce. It's an unfortunate fact. One sad story among many. But, this bedtime story doesn't have to end with extinctual goodbyes. A major step in helping the Monarch's survival is a simple campaign: humans who live in the path of the Monarch simply dedicate a little space in their gardens for growing some milkweed.
That means all of us in eastern California and northern Nevada. Grow a few Milkweed plants. The Monarch Butterfly is probably worth helping.
In the new century, this August, in the hot air as dry as wildfires, when one of these Monarch Butterflies happens to appear in your garden, you might wonder: has it happened upon a butterfly friendly place? The childhood memories begin to reemerge and the love we had as kids for strange things, strange insects, strange amphibians, strange reptiles, in its immense diversity, the strange world itself is seen on those big wings.
The scientists and philosophers talk about the prospects of survival in a world of such human dimensions. It translates to a question of fate facing the strong force of human expansion. What if it was simple enough that a simple change in human behavior would have substantial results, like saving a species or bringing one back to full and vibrant health? What if we could be a companion to the Monarch -- a conscious symbiosis -- simply by providing some food? Roadsides, back yards, flower pots on the deck. It's worth a chance.
Like the stories we heard as kids. What if, rather than so few, there were no longer any Monarch migrations? And what if we, as gardeners, can help reverse this very real prospect the scientists and ecological philosophers are considering?
It is easy to create a garden that will attract butterflies and if you love butterflies, this is a must. You won't be disappointed.
Come in and talk to us about plants that attract butterflies. Different plants arrive at different times of the growing season, so come in and see what we have at the moment.
There are two other butterflies that look very much like the Monarch. One is called the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus); the other is called the Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus). Some scientists pose an explanation for why the three butterflies look and act so much alike: they all share a trait that helps their survival. That is, they don't taste good. In fact, they can make animals mildly ill. The theory is named after a scientist in the 19th century named Fritz Muller. Apparently Fritz sought out patterns and shared similarities like this. It's unclear whether Fritz thought that the two were imitating the one or if all three were imitating each other or what.
The Queen Butterfly's range isn't exactly Nevada, but both the Viceroy and the Monarch can be seen in our parts. The two look so much alike that if you don't stop and compare them side by side, it's difficult to say which is which. There are web sites that claim that when the Viceroy Butterfly shares the same territory as the Queen Butterfly that the Viceroy will even change color to a darker orange that more resembles the Queen Butterfly. Strange are the ways of nature.
Train yourself to recognize beneficial insects. When you see them living happy and carefree in your garden, take a good look at what it is that makes the insects so happy. Then you can duplicate the conditions elsewhere in order to extend the living space of your garden.
Pollinating Insects to encourage:
Predatory insects to encourage:
Food For Birds, Lizards, Toads
Soil Producing & Enhancing Annelids
Try this book: Wildlife-Friendly Plants: Make Your Garden a Haven for Beneficial Insects, Amphibians and Birds
by Rosemary Creeser and Steve Wooser (Photographer). Beneficial insects, amphibians and birds are all right here in our own backyards. Plus, the concept is interesting and holds numerous possibilities.
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It's easy to have a Praying Mantis set up residency in your backyard each summer. They generally stay in one area and are incredibly fascinating to watch. Plus they kill lots of wasps and flies.
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