Save the Monarch

Monarch Education and Conservation

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    This page is dedicated to the education and conservation of Monarch butterflies. Here you will find information on the present status of the Monarch population, learn the reasons for the dwindling number of Monarchs, and find out what you can do to help increase their numbers. You'll learn about the life cycle of a monarch and come to understand why milkweed is so important in Monarch conservation.
    Gardening-oriented businesses and organizations can also, on this page, order our beautiful, informative 'Save the Monarch' brochures for distribution to customers or members, or maybe to be used as a handout at special events your business or organization may be hosting or attending. The brochures, too, are geared toward Monarch education and conservation.
The graph to the left shows data for 1994-2003 collected by personnel of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas in Mexico. 
Data for 2003-2013 was collected by World Wildlife Fund Mexico in coordination with the Dicectorate of the MBBR.

Monarch Numbers PlummetóAgain    by Rose Franklin, February 28, 2014

Since the winter of 1993-1994, scientists have been traveling to Michoacan, Mexico, every winter to monitor the size of the area that is occupied by over-wintering Monarch butterflies. This information is used to provide data on the status of the butterfly population, and might even be an indicator of the status of pollinator insects in general.

    The size of the area is measured in hectares. One hectare equals approximately 2.47 acres. Looking at the graph, you will see that during the winter of 1996-1997, the year the population was at its highest, Monarchs covered 20.97 hectares of mountainside. Thatís almost 52 acres.

This winter, 2013-2014, there was only .67 hectare of Mexican forest blanketed by the orange and black wings of Monarchs. Thatís approximately 1.65 acres, an area smaller than the average-sized Walmart! 

During the past two years, the Monarch population has plummeted to alarmingly low numbers. There is reason for concern.

    What has caused the Monarch population to decline? The consensus among scientists is that there may many factors at play. Among them are (1) the destruction of natural habitat, (2) the increased use of insecticides, (3) the increased use of herbicides, and (4) climate change.

    Approximately 6,000 acres per day, 2.2 million acres per year, of farmland and natural habitat is being converted to housing developments, resorts, shopping centers, gulf courses, and highways. Natural prairies and grasslands are being plowed under to grow more corn and soybeans, two agricultural crops that have skyrocketed in price over the last decade or so.

    Almost all of the corn and soybeans being planted today are herbicide-resistant varieties. Farmers can plant the seed without having to till the soil, and then spray the fields with herbicides to control the weeds. The herbicides kill the weeds (including milkweed, which Monarchs must have to lay their eggs on) but do not harm the corn and soybean plants. No one knows how many milkweed plants have been killed by the application of herbicides, but likely, millions have been poisoned in the past 10 years or so. Entomologists who focus their study on the Monarch feel certain the disappearance of milkweed from U.S. agricultural grounds, where it once grew in abundance, is the number one reason for the dwindling number of Monarchs.

    The widespread use of insecticides to control mosquito and gypsy moth populations might likely be contributing to the disappearance of butterflies too.  Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is often aerial-sprayed over forests, wetlands, and near housing developments to kill the insect pests that must be kept under control. But Bt is a notorious caterpillar killer! And while butterflies were not the intended target of the spraying, I am pretty sure that millions of butterfly larvae have been wiped out by Bt.

    Climate change is another factor that scientists often note as having an impact on the butterfly population. The average temperature is increasing, droughts are becoming more common, and storms are growing stronger. Along with these weather events causing stress for humans, they are hard on the butterfly population too.

    Are insecticides killing the butterflies? Are herbicides poisoning the milkweeds that Monarchs must have in order for reproduction to occur? Are warmer summers, heavy rains, violent wind storms, and/or droughts taking their toll? No one knows for sure which of these factors has had the most devastating consequences for the Monarch population, but one or more of these is assuredly causing the Monarch populace to plummet.

    The honey bee population appears to be in serious trouble too. I wonder if itís not the same variables causing both the Monarch and honey bee populations to sharply drop in number. And if, by chance, that is the case, weíd better wake up. Without pollinators, the human race could not exist. We need these insects to pollinate our food crops.  

2014-2015 Winter Update:  The over-wintering Monarch population in Mexico increased to cover 1.13 hectars (2.79 acres). While this is welcome news, the Monarch numbers remain very low.

2015-2016 Winter Update:  The Monarch population reflected a 255% increase in the area occupied by Monarchs in the overwintering habitat since the previous year. They occupied approximately 10 acres of habitat compared to last year's estimate of 2.8 acres. Great news! But then, in early March, as the Monarchs were beginning to leave their overwintering grounds, snow, high winds, and freezing temperatures toppled hundreds of trees and killed thousands (likely millions) of Monarchs. How sad.

2016-2017 Winter Update:  Here's the latest graph:

What we can do to help increase the Monarch population:

Plant milkweed for them to lay eggs on. One of the milkweeds they highly favor for egg-laying  is Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), a South American native that must be treated as an annual in most of the U.S. In September and October, Tropical Milkweed provides nectar for the Monarchs that are migrating to Mexico.

Plant nectar plants for the adult Monarchs to feed on. Butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis), Milkweed (Asclepias), and Zinnia are among their favorite nectar sources.

Refrain from using insecticides and herbicides on your property.  Remember, butterflies are insects that might be harmed by the insecticides you use, and herbicides might kill plants that are vital to butterfly  survival and reproduction.

Work to protect natural Monarch habitats (areas containing milkweed and wildflowers that can be utilized for nectaring) from being disturbed or forever destroyed.

Donate to Monarch Watch or another organization dedicated to the conservation, education, and research of Monarch butterflies.


The Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly

Eggs are laid on milkweed plants by female Monarchs. They are generally deposited singly on the undersides of leaves. A Monarch caterpillar hatches from the egg 5 to 7 days after it is laid. It is so tiny it can barely be seen, but just 10 to 14 days after hatching, it is fully grown, about 2 3/8Ē long. It has grown (and become distasteful to birds) by feeding on a strict diet of milkweed.
    The caterpillar usually leaves the milkweed plant to pupate. Pupation requires only the shedding of its skin (butterfly caterpillars do not spin a cocoon as most moths do). Under the shed skin, a semi-hard shell, the chrysalis, forms to encase the caterpillar. Inside the chrysalis, a miraculous transformation occurs: the Monarch caterpillar becomes a majestic butterfly. And this takes place in just 8 to 12 days!
    When the transformation is complete, the chrysalis cracks open and out comes a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

The Monarch Migration

    Some Monarchs are permanent residents to Florida and California. Most, those that are summer residents east of the Rocky Mountains, migrate to central Mexico for the winter. There, high in the oyamel fir forests west of Mexico City, Monarchs are protected from freezing temperatures from November through late February. In late February, the butterflies mate and then begin the journey north. Milkweed plants are now in growth mode in Texas, so this is where they will enter the U.S. to begin the northward pilgrimage.
   The Monarchs that lay eggs in Texas will go no farther; their role in the survival of the species has been completed. But while the lives of these Monarchs will end, their offspring will continue the journey north. Eventually, they will be seen even in parts of Canada, where milkweed still grows to host their caterpillars.
    From spring through fall, three to five generations of Monarchs will be produced. The last generation of the season, the Monarchs that emerge from chrysalises from late August through late September, will not mate, but instead, they will build fuel reserves by nectaring on flowers and then migrate to Mexico for the winter.

'Save the Monarch' brochures

I, Rose Franklin, created the 'Save the Monarch' brochure to educate the public on the obstacles facing the Monarch and urge readers to assist the Monarch in its struggle to multiply.

The brochures were printed by a commercial printer on high-quality, heavy weight, semi-gloss paper and thus, are attractive and professional in appearance. They were printed on 8 1/2" X 11" stock, are pre-folded, and ready to hand out (except for adding your contact info to the back panel).

There is space on the back panel of the brochure for your company name, address, web site address, phone number, etc.

The inside and outside of the brochure are shown below.

Price includes shipping.

100 for $35.00      35cents each 200 for $60.00       30 cents each 300 for $67.50       25 cents each

Brochure Outside:

Brochure Inside:

Which Milkweed for the Monarchs?

                                                                                                by Rose Franklin,  January 19, 2015


Americans are worried about the current status of the Monarch butterfly population, and they should be. Monarch numbers have dramatically declined in the past ten years or so. Some entomologists even wonder if the spectacular annual migration to and from Mexico might one day cease to exist. The over-wintering population in Mexico last winter, 2013-2014, was the smallest ever recorded, about 10% of the 20-year average.

Monarch enthusiasts, knowing that Monarchs must have access to milkweed if the population is to increase, are opting to plant milkweed instead of petunias, impatiens, geraniums, and marigolds. But they are confused about which milkweed species they should plant. Some gardeners are told they should only plant the milkweed species that are native to their area while others hear that almost any milkweed, including those that grow in the tropic jungles of the world, like Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), are suitable hosts for the Monarch.

It was scientists who first began to oppose the planting of Tropical Milkweed. They claimed that because this milkweed species grows year around in some parts of the U.S, it might disrupt the Monarchís migratory cues in autumn and facilitate in the creation of a large population that does not migrate but, instead, resides year around where Tropical Milkweed grows year around.  And there, where it is not killed off annually by autumn frosts (southern Florida and along the coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico), Tropical Milkweed surely harbors pathogens and facilitates in the increased transmission of disease (especially Oe, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha). Researchers even know that there are, and have been for a number of years, a few small Monarch populations residing year around, and breeding year around, in isolated locations along the Gulf coast.

Migration likely serves several purposes in the well-being of Monarchs. It compels the Monarch to abandon habitat which might be contaminated with pathogens. The long-distance migration also serves to weed out the individuals that are weak and diseased, so that only the healthiest of the population is left to produce offspring the following year.  

Because migration is assuredly advantageous to the health of the Monarch population, I am not comfortable in knowing that even a tiny fragment of the Monarch population has become non-migratory and now breeds year around in a few locations along the southern coast of the U.S. In those areas where Tropical Milkweed does not die in winter, I urge people to refrain from planting it. If it is already planted, I suggest the Tropical Milkweed plants be cut to the ground in autumn and all the debris discarded, thus eliminating the possibility of Monarchs reproducing year around on foliage which might be contaminated with disease. If those residents along the Gulf coast are unwilling or unable to cut their plants to the ground every fall, I advise them to spray their Tropical Milkweed with Roundup, repeatedly until it is completely gone. I donít generally advocate the use of Roundup, but in this case, I will tolerate its use so that the Monarch will be able to multiply in healthy, disease-free environments.

OK. I agree that in the 3% of the nation where Tropical Milkweed grows year around, it could, and most likely does, harbor and spread disease among the small Monarch population that has chosen to reside and breed there year around. But,  as stated above, this could be prevented if people would cut their Tropical Milkweed plants to the ground every fall. In the other 97% of the U.S. though, I think Tropical Milkweed might well be of benefit to the Monarch, especially at this point in time, when Monarch numbers are swiftly dwindling (though, in my opinion, maybe not any faster than other butterfly species are dwindling in number).  

I do not believe that Monarchs migrating from eastern Canada or the northeastern states of the U.S to Mexico could be persuaded to stay in Pennsylvania or Virginia because they encounter a large stand of Tropical Milkweed growing in a garden. I simply do not believe that. Eastern Monarchs are genetically programmed to make the annual migration to the over-wintering sites in the high-altitude oyamel fir forests in the trans-volcanic mountains of central Mexico. Northeastern Monarchs emerging from pupae between late August and mid-September are in reproductive diapause and thus, not capable of mating and laying eggs. Probably in response to shorter day length, cooler autumn temperatures, and/or the orientation of the sun, they emerge from their pupae, feed on nectar to store sugar in their bodies, and then automatically begin their long journey south.

I have been an avid butterfly gardener for twenty years, and I have grown many species of milkweed in my gardens in central Pennsylvania. My advice, at this particular point in time, is to plant whatever milkweed species will aid the Monarch in its quest to survive and multiply.  

Several years ago, I might have agreed with those who advocate the planting of natives only. Today though, with the Monarch numbers at an all-time low, I advocate that we plant whichever milkweed species Monarchs will readily lay eggs on, and/or whatever milkweed species Monarch caterpillars will readily feed on.

Having had many milkweed species our my yard over the past two decades, my husband and I have seen that, consistently from one year to the next, female Monarchs lay more eggs on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) than they do on any other milkweed species. Annually, we find 200 or more Monarch caterpillars on the hundreds of milkweed plants growing on our property. At least 70% of those are found feeding on the Tropical Milkweed, not the Pennsylvania native Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), or Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), also known as Bloodflower, grows 36Ē to 48Ē high, generally blooms from mid-July through frost, and prefers full sun. It is native to tropical South America, Mexico, Central America, and a few torrid islands of North America and thus, must be treated as an annual in most of the U.S. Tropical Milkweed produces clusters of tiny, star-shaped flowers which might be yellow, yellow/orange, or red/orange bi-colors.

I have to assume that female Monarchs know what they are doing in choosing Tropical Milkweed for the laying of their eggs. If they intrinsically choose to lay eggs on Tropical Milkweed, even when a number of native species are available to them, they must have innate reasoning for doing so. Monarchs are genetically programmed to halt reproduction in fall, inherently wired to make the annual migration to and from Mexico, and I think, innately programmed to know which milkweed species is best suited for their offspring to consume. Maybe Tropical Milkweed is more nutritious than native milkweeds, maybe it has something to do with the amount of cardenolides in it, which, once consumed by the caterpillars, serve to make both the caterpillars and the adult butterflies toxic to birds.

Andy, my husband, and I offer a huge buffet of milkweeds to the Monarchs that visit our property during the summer months. Having a choice of depositing eggs on the hundreds of Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed which grow in our yard, along with other milkweeds too, they overwhelming choose Tropical Milkweed. I donít know why they choose it, and I donít care why. I only know that they do.

Aside from advocating the planting of Tropical Milkweed because female Monarchs prefer it for egg-laying, I promote it for another reason also. Tropical Milkweed is highly utilized as a nectar source by fall-migrating Monarchs. In October, when Monarchs are still migrating through Pennsylvania and most flowering plants are far past their prime, Tropical Milkweed is generally still green and, apparently, still producing sweet-flavored nectar. On warm, sunny October days, from late morning through mid-afternoon, our Tropical Milkweed patches are adorned by the flutter of dozens of migrating Monarchs. They stop by, nectar for just a while, and then continue on their way.

Monarchs are in crisis--and so long as they are, and unless someone convinces me that Tropical Milkweed is causing peril to the Monarch (other than in that 3% of the country where it does not freeze out over the winter), I will continue to promote the planting of Tropical Milkweed. I love the Monarch, and my wish is that its population rebounds to the number recorded in Mexico during the winter of 1996-1997, the year the Monarch count was the highest ever recorded.

Rose Franklin's Perennials
107 Butterfly Lane      Spring Mills, PA 16875

(814) 422-8968        Email:

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