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How to attract Monarch butterflies to your garden
Monarch butterflies are threatened in America
The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is surely one of the most beautiful and fascinating insects in the world with its large reddish-orange wings veined in strong black lines, its soaring graceful flight and its amazing migratory habits.
The Monarch is known to fly incredibly long distances and is one of the only butterfly species that can cross the Atlantic Ocean. This butterfly migrates southwards each year from Canada and the northernmost States and millions overwinter in California and Mexico before starting a return journey in the spring.
Sadly over the last few years the numbers of this magnificent insect have been dropping rapidly due to the combination of climate changes, destruction of their habitat and food plants, as well as the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides. Illegal cutting down of the forests the butterflies overwinter in is another serious threat to their survival According to CNN there are at least one million less Monarch butterflies that have been overwintering than last year. Recently many Monarch butterflies were caught in freak wintery conditions that caused them to fall from the trees they were roosting in. Climate Change is another serious threat to the ongoing survival of this amazing insect.
Help for the Monarch Butterfly
Fortunately for the Monarch butterfly more and more people are doing what they can to help this wonder of nature to survive and the best way is to plant milkweed (Asclepias species) that the striped caterpillars need to eat.
Many organisations have been set up with this in mind and searching online using the words "monarch butterfly" + "milkweed seeds" you will soon find websites that, at a very reasonable price, will sell you seeds of the many species of milkweeds that exist, and there are a few companies that even distribute the seeds free for a SASE.
Most of the milkweeds have pretty flowers and look great in your garden as well as being the only plant the Monarch butterfly caterpillar can eat.
There are species of milkweed such as the Showy Milkweed (A. speciosa) that can grow in the cooler more northerly States, as well as ones that like a warmer temperature like the very popular Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed (A.currassavica). If you don't have a garden a balcony or roof terrace will work just as well because milkweed will grow well in large flowerpots or even in windowboxes.
Most of the species of milkweed are easy to grow and should produce seed pods too, as long as they don't get totally eaten by butterfly caterpillars. The Monarch larvae eat a lot of leaves so the more plants you grow the better chance you will have of being able to rear more caterpillars through to the chrysalis stage, from which in a matter of weeks the adult will emerge.
Monarch chrysalises are a wonder too behold in themselves being fashioned in a pale jade green with a row of bright metallic golden spots and they hang down like little bottles of magic butterfly potion. As the Monarch inside gets ready to complete its metamorphosis the colours of its wings can be easily seen through the increasingly transparent wing casing area.
Finally the day arrives and the butterfly breaks its way out, expands and dries its wings for an hour or so before leaving on its maiden flight. To see your first Monarch go through this amazing transformation is a day you will never forget.
Monarch butterflies live in many other countries besides Canada and America, including Australia and New Zealand, and in Europe they are found as breeding populations in the Canary Islands and Madeira. They are only able to colonise new territory if their food-plants grow in the countries they have arrived in. The populations in Madeira and the Canary Islands are dependent on gardeners growing the Tropical Milkweed.
The Monarch butterfly has sometimes been found as a rare migrant to the UK and has even got as far north as Russia and Sweden. Perhaps it is not surprising that it is also known as the Wanderer butterfly? With its travels all over the world and ability to even cross oceans it is certainly well-named!
Free milkweed seeds here: http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm