Monarch butterflies are already 90 percent less plentiful than they used to be. They are endangered, whether they are officially and legally registered as such or not. They are struggling.
The monarch butterfly, to many, is a symbol of summer. They also are a symbol of change — of becoming something more or better than before. They are transformed from a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly before our eyes.
Or, they used to be. Until their food and host plant, the milkweed, was largely cut down and poisoned. Weeds, you know.
Today, outside of my window, I heard this genocide happening as I worked. There was no screaming. Just the sound of grinding and an engine roaring as a large mower moved down my dirt road and cut down all of the milkweed that grew alongside it.
I had just walked down this road the other evening and noted the monarch eggs on the undersides of the leaves of the milkweed plants.
Earlier, thank goodness, I had torn off leaves with caterpillars that had already hatched and brought them in to raise them. I was afraid of just this happening. Six have successfully formed chrysalises. I will place them outside once they hatch. At least I have saved these half-dozen or so. All of the potential monarchs that still were on those milkweed plants are now dead. If any were not crushed, the plant they relied on is dead. They have no chance.
The monarch lays eggs in several cycles throughout the summer. It begins in April and May, with those eggs hatching after around four days, and then the caterpillars munch their way through milkweed leaves until they grow big and find their own place to hang upside down and form a chrysalis. There they hang and morph, unseen, quietly, until, 10 days later, they emerge resplendent as a monarch butterfly.
That butterfly will live for a couple of weeks, up to maybe six, and the cycle will play out all over again.
It is the last-cycle butterfly — the eggs laid in late July and in August, the butterfly emerging in the fall — that makes the long migration south to Mexico. But not when we cut down those plants. After that there are no eggs to become caterpillars that become monarch butterflies that lay the last eggs and become the last caterpillars and the last butterflies of the season, which fly south.
The extinction of such a symbolic and noble species is so very preventable. All it takes is to plant the plants it needs in our gardens. Or, at least, to preserve what plants remain in the wild. Instead, we cut them down. Roadsides are some of the last places where milkweeds grow. These are corridors for the butterflies.
I plead with city, county and state authorities to stop mowing and spraying roadsides. Stop killing the monarchs.
Pamela Freeman lives in Oak Grove.