Just as I drove in my driveway yesterday, I noticed a monarch butterfly where we planted milkweed several years ago. She flew away just as I approached. Holding my breath, I inched toward the tender milkweed plant, with its four newly emerged leaves and lifted a leaf. There was her egg! It may sound corny, but it was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
I am fairly new to monarch conservation having only gotten involved with pollinators when my husband became a beekeeper in 2008 which led me to found Bee City USA in 2012. But across the United States, for many years devoted citizen scientists have marked spring by noting when they see their first monarch and their first monarch egg on the Journey North site. Their records have led to new discoveries about the monarch migration.
Recently, the Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) named Bee City USA a "partner," a proud moment for us. The Monarch Joint Venture is a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental agencies, and academic programs working together to protect monarchs and their migration. Partners are experts in the fields of monarch conservation and education and are working to make colossal progress toward MJV's ultimate goal of monarch conservation in the U.S. in cooperation with conservationists in Canada and Mexico. You can read about the North American Monarch Conservation Plan here.
Bee City USA and its sister program, Bee Campus USA, represent growing national networks of communities and academic institutions across America committed to pollinator conservation. That conservation starts with awareness, then education, and finally enhanced habitat for pollinators, rich in a diversity of locally native plants that are free of harmful pesticides.
Milkweed is baby food for monarch caterpillars, but when they become adult butterflies, they don't eat milkweed leaves anymore. Indeed, their new mouthparts couldn't chew a leaf if they wanted to! As you watch a newborn monarch butterfly emerging from their bejeweled chrysalis, you will witness their straw-like proboscis roll out in two parts and magically join together--zipperlike--never to separate again. Their "tongue" is uniquely designed for carefully plunging into flower nectaries to supply the carbohydrates necessary for flight.
Bee City USA urges everyone to plant locally native milkweed in their yard, and if you don't have a yard, join forces with community organizations to plant milkweed. The monarchs will find it! The bonus is that milkweed provides plentiful nectar for a wide variety of pollinators, including most species of bees.
I dream of a day when once again children can look up to see migrating monarchs blacken out the sun.
Phyllis Stiles is founder and director of Bee City USA. Learn more about Bee City USA here.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.