Letter to the Editor

Monarch butterfly needs to be protected

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dear Editor:

Last evening, I was thrilled to see several female monarch butterflies laying eggs on the milkweed plants in our summer campground on Mount Desert Island in Maine. Even though I spend the summers in Maine, my hometown is in Greencastle.

Monarchs have always held a special place in my heart. Prior to retiring, I was an elementary school teacher and principal in Indiana. I raised monarchs in my classroom.

These orange, black and white beauties are a fantastic example of the cycle of life. My students were always thrilled to watch their transformation from egg, to caterpillar, chrysalis and then hatch into a beautiful butterfly.

Currently, the monarch is in trouble. Over the past 20 years, monarch populations have plummeted up to 60 percent in some areas due to loss of habitat, pesticides and climate change.

Monarchs are one of the very few insects that migrate. The last hatchlings in the latter part of August and September can live up to eight months. The migratory route is a long one. A Canadian monarch can migrate over 3,000 miles to the mountains of northern Mexico.

Just imagine, this small insect with the brain that is half the size of the head of a pin has a built in guidance system that urges them to make this tremendously long journey.

The heart of the monarch’s migratory route is the Midwestern “Corn Belt.” Because of the spraying of insecticides on corn and soy that have been genetically modified to resist herbicides, the monarch is in bad trouble. Many also see milkweed as an invasive weed.

Several years ago, the road that leads to Big Walnut Sports Park outside of Greencastle had a lovely stretch of milkweed beside a cornfield. The land was for sale and in order to make it more appealing to a buyer, the entire stretch of milkweed was mowed down.

Milkweed is the only plant the monarch caterpillar will eat. There are over 100 different species of milkweed with the common milkweed being the most prevalent variety. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. I have not heard of the outcome of the petition.

I am encouraged by what I see in Maine. Large tracts of common milkweed have been allowed to grow in many areas, giving these beautiful butterflies a chance to survive. Our campground has several large flowerbeds which are full of milkweed. The other day, I counted over 30 monarch caterpillars.

I hope that this type of initiative will continue not only Maine but throughout the Midwest.

If change does not occur, future generations may not be able to spend a lovely summer afternoon watching the brilliant orange, black, and white monarch gently flutter by, sparking the wonder of nature for all to enjoy.

Diana VanMiddlesworth