The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has filed a petition to list monarch butterflies as endangered. The verdict on whether these beautiful and important pollinators will be registered as threatened or endangered is due June 2019!
Monarchs who are born in the summer don’t migrate. Their offspring, on the other hand, born in the fall travel great distances to find places to overwinter. Monarchs from the Eastern portion of the United States where we live migrate to Mexico.
Since “Migration” is the theme for this month’s Nature Book Club I couldn’t pass up the chance to share a great way to empower our kids to help save these monarchs!
How to Help the Monarchs
There are several great ways that kids can get involved with helping the monarchs in their very own backyards. Two of the most important are
- learning about monarchs and sharing that knowledge with others
- growing native milkweed
1. Learning About Monarchs
As astounding as it may seem, many kids these days know more about the animals in the zoo than they do the animals in their own backyards! Taking a few minutes to notice what’s happening right outside our own windows is critical not only for the monarchs’ survival but also for our own since monarchs are a large part of the pollinator population that help our food supply grow. They are also beautiful and amazing and worth saving!
Here are my kids’ picks for our favorite picture books about monarchs!
Hurry and the Monarch by Antione O’ Flatharta is a sweet story perfect for introducing young children to the concept of migrating monarchs. Hurry, a Texas tortoise, lives his life in a garden. He watches as the migrating monarchs drift south in winter and return north in summer. One stops and lays eggs in Hurry’s garden. After hatching and going through metamorphosis, the young butterfly has a chat with Hurry. Here’s my favorite part:
Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost and Leonid Gore has a map on the inside cover showing migration patterns for monarch butterflies. The life cycle of a monarch and of a milkweed plant are documented in an easily digestible story form. The addition of details about how milkweed reproduces, and the inclusion of the need for other flowering plants from which the adult drinks nectar before migrating south, make this book a great find. The beautiful use of acrylic and pastel artwork is also descriptive and helpful for identification and understanding.
Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons is a great non-fiction choice. The content is simple, but informative and descriptive. The diagrams aren’t overdone and are easy for the kids to decipher. The book is packed with great facts about how fast and how far monarchs fly. Of particular interest to my kids is that there are Monarch festivals held in some towns to celebrate the arrival of the butterflies. I think they’re considering adding this tradition to our home.
Monarch Butterflies: Mysterious Travelers by Bianca Lavies tells the story of Dr. Fred Urquhart and his wife Norah, scientists who are responsible for first identifying the migrating path of monarchs to Mexico. Using a wing tagging system and relying on newspaper posts and citizen scientists, the the path of the monarchs was discovered. Their life long research led to the eventual identification of several overwintering sites for monarchs in Mexico where they literally blanket native fir trees. Upon the discovery, tourists flocked to the area, which are now sanctuaries working hard to preserve monarch populations. The photography in this book is alive with amazing, National Geographic quality photos. Macro lens views are vibrant and detailed. Even if your children aren’t old enough to appreciate the story line (which takes several pages to really start) the pictures are worth borrowing this book.
Highlights of this book:
- The pictures of a Monarch wing tagged are incredible! Can you imagine trying to do this? There is a report in the book of a teacher from Minnesota tagging one that Brugger found at the overwintering site in Mexico. Amazing!
- So many monarchs congregate on one tree limb that the combined weight brings the limb to the ground.
- There are reports in this book of local cattle growing fat from all the monarchs they eat. I thought monarchs were poisonous!
- There is a picture explaining how to identify a male monarch versus a female monarch. The male monarch has a spot on each hind wing with dark scales covering a scent pouch for attracting females.
- Did I mention yet that the photography in this book is amazing?!?
2. Growing Native Milkweed
Milkweed is the only plant a monarch caterpillar will eat.
No milkweed = no monarchs!but it must be native milkweed
Mature monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. The eggs hatch within days and the monarch eats the weeds until it is ready to form a chrysalis. Once it emerges from the chrysalis the butterfly must remain still for close to two hours until it’s wings are dry and it can fly.
Monarchs can only fly when the weather is warm. Research indicates that it must be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit for them to fly. At night they roost. Monarchs that are born in the summer live only for a short time, long enough to reproduce. Their offspring born in the later summer or early fall are the butterflies that migrate. Those from the Eastern United States migrate to Mexico. Although there are other butterflies that migrate, monarchs are the only ones that make a return trip. The adults return north to lay their eggs on milkweed plants. If there is no milkweed there is no place to lay eggs and no food for young caterpillars. That means no more monarchs.
Native Milkweed Only Please
There is some evidence that planting non-native species of milkweed or tropical milkweed may do more harm than good. So, please check with your local nursery or do some online research for your area before buying and planting milkweed. If you aren’t sure where to start, try this interactive map from Grow Milkweed Plant’s to determine which milkweed is native to your area.
East Tennessee Native Milkweed
Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
We know that butterfly milkweed grows in our backyard. We saw some last year, but not much. The beautiful orange attracts us as well as butterflies so we were happy to purchase some of these seeds.
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Common milkweed is highly recommended for our area and several local nurseries told us that it was successful at attracting monarchs. We grabbed some of these seeds as well!
Swamp (Red) milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
Plants for Pollinators recommended this third species of milkweed as hardy and tolerant of newbie gardeners. It’s also perfect for this region. Sometimes it’s listed as “red” milkweed. I’m guessing if you’re trying to sell seeds, “red” goes over better than “swamp.”
Spring Planting of Milkweed
Now is the perfect time to plant some containers of milkweed if you’re hoping to secure habitat for summer and fall monarchs. Grab some flats, some soil, and some seeds. Plant organic and be sure to avoid pesticides, which will poison our monarchs.
Remember if you are planning to raise monarchs (a common homeschool project) you have to have milkweed and lots of it in order for your caterpillars to survive and prosper!
After completing the messy business of spreading dirt and planting seeds, we brought ours indoors and will transplant them outdoors after about four to eight weeks. Plan to transport your seeds out after the date of the last frost. Seeds started indoors often have a higher germination rate and allow us to watch them grow up close!
Each of my three “big kids” got to choose a species of milkweed. We planted the seeds in a flat of organic soil. Using Popsicle sticks we placed each stick approximately 1/4 inch deep.
Join the Nature Book Club!
Every month Nature Book Club shares their story ideas and projects to help kids embrace nature! We’d love for you to link up and join us!
Mapping Animal Migrations by Karyn at Teach Beside Me
The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster Online Book Club by Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate
Raising Milkweed by Erika at The Playful Scholar
Raising Monarch Butterflies by Thaleia at Something 2 Offer