One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked, he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, "I'm saving these starfish, sir".
The old man chuckled aloud, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?"
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, "I made a difference to that one."
- inspired by Loren Eiseley
One of my readers said that my monarch raising reminded her of this parable. It does describe my thought process about what I'm doing and why I do it. And while it did start out years ago as a way to satisfy my curiosity about the miracle of metamorphosis, once I knew about the monarch's plight, it gave new meaning to the activity for me.
|Monarch on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) blooms|
The monarch butterfly is currently being considered for the Threatened Species List under the Endangered Species Act and for several years now, the growing of milkweed has been encouraged and promoted as a way to help this iconic summer beauty.
With the advent of Roundup®-ready crops in the mid-'90s, the monarch's habitat took a sharp nosedive. Because milkweed is the only plant that provides food for their caterpillars, the monarch has become collateral damage. No milkweed, no monarchs.
|Monarch on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)|
I grow plenty of milkweed in my garden: common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), all of which are perennial and native here in Ohio.
|Fifth instar monarch caterpillar on whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)|
I also plant seeds for tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is an annual here and not native.
|Second instar monarch caterpillars on tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)|
I've found monarch caterpillars on all five types, with the preferred being (in order of what they like best) swamp milkweed, whorled milkweed, and tropical milkweed. I have found the least number of them on the common milkweed.
Currently, there are 20 chrysalides awaiting eclosure, five caterpillars hanging in the "J" position that will be chrysalides by tomorrow, and 31 other caterpillars of various sizes munching away on the fresh milkweed that I provide for them each day in the four enclosures I'm maintaining.
This year I've brought them inside in the egg stage too, knowing that even at this stage, I'm increasing their chances of survival. Mostly due to predators, the mortality rate of the monarchs from egg to butterfly is 90-95%, meaning out of the 100 eggs that an adult female will lay, only 5-10 of them will survive to become adult butterflies.
|A monarch egg is about the size of a pinhead and takes a concentrated effort|
to spot them, usually on the underneath side of young milkweed leaves.
If you've never grown milkweed, I urge you to do so. It doesn't have to be the common milkweed that many are familiar with and turn their nose up at. Butterfly weed is a beautiful orange-flowered plant with smaller, narrower leaves. There's a yellow variety of it called 'Hello Yellow' if you aren't a fan of orange.
Swamp milkweed does very well in the Great Lakes region and the monarchs have shown a preference for it in many gardeners' gardens. The blooms are a deep rose color, but there is also a white-flowering one called 'Ice Ballet'.
|Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) has the telltale|
blooms typical of most milkweed varieties, in white and
are smaller in size.
The annual (Zones 9-11) tropical milkweed has gorgeous bi-colored red and yellow flowers and is easily grown from seed.
This one has created some controversy among the monarch enthusiasts, with some indication that it may not be in the best interest of the monarchs to grow it in the far southern states, where it is perennial. (You can read more about this here.) This is pretty much a non-issue for those of us in the north, where tropical milkweed dies at first frost.
Growing more milkweed is one way that you can help the monarchs and yet another is by bringing in eggs and/or caterpillars you find, to raise to adulthood in your home. Raise a few or raise many, you will be greatly increasing their chances of survival by doing it.
As I said, from egg to adult, the monarch has only about a 5-10% chance of survival to adulthood, due to predators and other dangers, when left in the wild. Bringing them inside increases their chances, with rates often as high as 90%.
Watching the process from egg to adult is fascinating, at the very least, and even our almost-three-year-old granddaughter, Hannah, loves checking on the "catta-piwerz." If asked what those caterpillars turn into, she'll tell you, "Butterfwies!"
Don't think you can't possibly make a difference because you're just one person. Don't think you can't make a difference because you can't do as much as someone else. Don't think you can't make a difference, because you can. It's not that hard, it doesn't take that long, and imagine how good you'll feel knowing that you helped save the monarchs.
Every monarch counts.
For more information on raising monarch caterpillars in your house, visit Monarch Watch. There you will find oodles of information on monarchs. Another wonderful site for tracking the migration of monarchs and other wildlife in both spring and fall is Journey North.
There are several Facebook groups devoted to monarchs, where fellow monarch enthusiasts share their experiences. It's another great way to learn more and get advice.
The Beautiful Monarch
Monarchs and Milkweed
Monarch Maniacs of Ohio