Hello green folks and thank you for coming back for yet another Saturday with Shavara! If you’re familiar with the Oklahoma City Zoo and the numerous eco-inspired events that they host throughout the year, you know that last Saturday was the Monarch Madness 5k/Fun Run. Many of you may not be aware that I am not a “Native Okie,” rather I’ve been in this great state for 5 years now, and in my time here I’ve noticed that there seems to be quite an emphasis on the monarch butterfly. I would like to think that most of my lovely green readers know me by now, and the fact that whenever I notice something that peaks my curiosity, I’m compelled to do extensive research on the topic. I find no greater joy than relaying my findings to you eager readers, which is why I knew this topic had to be broached. The questions that came to me were the following (in no particular order); “What’s the deal with the monarch butterfly? Why does it seem especially important to my fellow Oklahomans, and what are the environmental benefits of showing all this love?”
Alas! I have found some pretty interesting answers, all of which taught me how truly impressive this little creature is.
The monarch butterfly is one species of over 17,500 species of butterflies worldwide, with 750 species being accounted for in North America. According to the Smithsonian, the monarchs behavior is an example of what’s known as true migration in insects. They migrate from their natural home in the Western Hemisphere, and can also be found in Hawaii, Indonesia, the Canary Islands, and Australia. Their fall migration patterns in the United States lead them to northern Mexico and California. Now for my AHA Moment… and hopefully for my sake I’m not the only person that didn’t know this…the monarchs migratory path actually runs smack dab through Oklahoma, which means we play a pretty important role in their continued survival. In order for monarchs to survive their grueling migration they need safe stopping points where food and shelter are available, and places to lay their eggs.
Monarchs exhibit the most complex migration pattern of any known insect. They are the only known species of butterfly that migrate in two directions every year, which most closely mirrors bird migration patterns. Monarch butterflies migrate an extraordinary 3,000 miles every year. They use a combination of wind currents and thermals to travel the long distances, doing so because they are unable to survive low winter temperatures. In order for the monarch butterfly to continue to survive people must be mindful of our role in affecting their food source and habitat. Butterflies are important indicators of healthy environments and healthy eco-systems, so their presence or lack of gives scientist insight into the health of a region. Beyond being quite lovely to look at this beautiful species has another important role in our eco-system, and that is one of pollinator… that’s right, much like our trusty friend the bee. Pollinators are responsible for 1/3 of the foods we eat, and countless other plants survival.
In order for monarchs to survive their grueling migration they need safe stopping points where food and shelter are available, and places to lay their eggs. Another complex issue that the monarch butterfly faces is that although they feed on the nectar of many flowering plants, they only lay their eggs on milkweed, and the caterpillar’s that hatch then feed exclusively on the milkweed. Some would say the monarch is pretty darn picky when it comes to food and where to lay its eggs, but it’s with good reason that this particular plant is so desirable. Milkweed contains chemical compounds that make the monarch caterpillar poisonous to any potential predator this poison only affects animals with backbones, but doesn’t hurt the caterpillar, which is a pretty smart survival technique. Unfortunately, many states consider milkweed a noxious weed, because variants of milkweed can be poisonous to livestock if ingested. With herbicide-resistant crops becoming more popular people have begun choosing pesticides that eradicate this plant disregarding the threat of extinction for the monarch as a result.
I chose to cover this particular topic because I believe that it is important to understand where a problem lies and make steps to fix it, and because Oklahoma is centrally located on the migratory route of this at-risk species, we have the ability to truly make a difference in some simple ways. We can plant and protect milkweed and native plants, avoid using harsh pesticides that eliminate food sources that monarchs and other pollinators depend on, and lastly support organizations that fight for the conservation of species that protect bio-diversity. Participating in something as simple and fun as a 5k run that’s promoting awareness about monarchs can make a huge difference… I mean as you see the run inspired me to question the importance of this unique butterfly species. The more we discover about our personal environmental roles the better global stewards we become.
As always I'll leave you with this; Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, when and where you can.
KOB’s very own Blog Contributor,