So you want to help the monarchs?

Monarch butterflyWhile honey bee health has been a major focus of the Bayer Bee Care Program in recent years, monarch butterflies are important, too.

The life cycle and journey of the monarch is nothing short of amazing. Across multiple generations, the beautiful butterflies make a 6,000-mile journey from Mexico in the spring, to the U.S. and Canada in the summer and back to Mexico in the fall.

The Importance of Milkweed to the Great Migration

Every fall, millions of monarchs travel thousands of miles from the central and eastern United States and Canada to central Mexico, where they overwinter at heights of 10,000 feet or more above sea level. While most monarchs only live for two to six weeks, this generation of monarchs will live for several months before they migrate back north to lay their eggs in early spring.

Monarch caterpillar As monarchs return north in the spring, they lay their eggs along the migration route to give way to new generations before the fall. The diet of monarch caterpillars consists solely of milkweed, which is also where monarchs exclusively lay their eggs, making it essential to their survival. After the caterpillar pupates and becomes an adult monarch, it will then feed on a more diverse assortment of nectar plants. Four to five generations of adult monarchs will be produced on the northward journey that spans from spring until late summer. The final generation produced in late summer will be the one to make the return journey south to Mexico during the fall. During this migration, the adults will feed exclusively on nectar.

However, the number of monarchs making the trip to Mexico has declined over the past two decades. Many factors, including the loss of milkweed in the United States, habitat loss in the Mexican forests, climate change and weather events all contribute to annual variations. Fortunately, monarchs are a resilient species. All of us, and especially those in agriculture, can play an important role in the effort to bring the monarch population back.

What Can We Do?

Establishing monarch habitat provides several benefits for farmers and landowners alike, such as promoting biodiversity and improving soil health. Incentives, cost-sharing and conservation programs are available in several states along the monarchs’ Milkweed bumble beemigration route. One such program, The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund, provides participants with free or discounted pollinator seed mixes and guidance in the establishment and maintenance of their projects for at least five years.

Not a farmer? That’s okay, too! There are several ways you can help in the quest to conserve monarch butterflies. Individuals, schools or community groups can establish butterfly and pollinator gardens. If you want to help, be sure to plant milkweed and colorful, pollinator-attractant wildflowers that will keep your garden buzzing and foster the monarch’s migratory route. Planting milkweed and a mix of native wildflowers that will bloom throughout the spring, summer and early fall will ensure that monarch caterpillars and adult butterflies have readily available food.

Additionally, individuals can become citizen scientists by studying and collecting data from monarchs or can simply use their voice and social media presence to raise awareness about this amazing species. You may also want to download HabiTally, an app hosted by Iowa State University that enables private citizens to enter data about Monarch habitat conservation efforts on their farms or in their yard. Together, we can ensure the future of this important species is a bright one.