Saving the Monarchs
By: J. Marlando
Photographs by: Howard Wilcox
There was something so very beautiful that belonged to my childhood—my world was populated by the most intriguing little creatures we simply called bugs and insects. Yes, I am fully aware that this doesn’t sound very inviting but back then, the fields and yards were a playground for bees, grasshoppers, butterflies and the sounds of all kinds of unseen life singing their incredible songs In fact, we spent many summer evenings sitting on my grandmother’s front porch just to be serenaded by the crickets or just to watch the fireflies in their amazing night dances. And, in the daytime, there seemed always to be flying parades of Viceroy Butterflies celebrating their lives and filling our world with color. And, speaking of color, we usually had a great many Red Robins in our yard, birds so lovely on the wing that we would often just stand in awe of them. But back then, in Colorado where I was raised, even the big, old ugly June Bugs that clung to our screen doors were amazing and mysterious to encounter. We never dreamed at the time that any of these wonderful creatures would ever be endangered much less…gone forever.
That was a great many years ago—I live in California now where there is at least 289 threatened and endangered plant and animal species are struggling to merely exist. These species range from the unique condor to the great Blue Whale and scores of butterflies.
One of the most beautiful butterflies we have is the Monarch. Many say that this particular butterfly in not yet endangered but its population is dwindling at an unnatural pace. And so, this article is devoted to saving the monarchs and one lady who is determined to do exactly this.
MELANIE and HER MONARCHS
I most recently heard of Melanie through a friend of mine and drove to Carpentaria to meet her. She lives in a newer home in a very old and quaint neighborhood; a quiet and inviting neighborhood really with a rustic charm of old architecture and well-kept yards; a place where flowers and lawns flourish and a feeling of tranquility weaves its way from house to house and yard to yard. “I’d love to live there,” I thought. In any case, I was greeted by Melanie Topalian and immediately taken through the house to her patio and backyard where she grows beautiful Monarch Butterflies.
As it turns out Melanie is a gracious lady, friendly and informative; a perfect candidate for an interview. My first question is, are the monarchs an endangered species? She tells me that some say they are not but, yes, she insists, adding that, “their populations are dwindling if for no other reason than that the beautiful, wild milkweed is being endangered. That is, “The milkweeds habitats are being reduced in size because of logging and so forth.”
“Monarchs have a need for milkweed?” I ask.
“Yes, for one thing they will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. “
I’ve already learned something.
She walks me over to the milkweeds growing in large containers in her yard. I am impressed because Monarchs are flying about her yard and their eggs are plentiful on the plant. Melanie smiles, “A great many neighborhood Monarchs are mine,” She says with a subtle spark of pride and a great deal of enthusiasm.
Monarchs, however, are the most beautiful butterflies on the planet and protecting them is certainly a noble cause.
Melanie shares a lot of other information with me which I will in turn share with you, the reader, next.
The life cycle of the Monarch is manifold compared to other living creatures. The life of a monarch begins with the egg from which the caterpillar (also called larvae) is born. The caterpillar has a short life and then miraculously turns into the pupa otherwise known as the chrysalis. After ten days the butterfly emerges and flies away to enjoy its life span.
What is so amazing about this is the incredible transformation that occurs inside the chrysalis. The crawly worm-like caterpillar is actually in the process of changing its physical form—this is most commonly called the process of “metamorphosis.”
I can think of nothing more incredibly beautiful or beautifully incredible than to see the butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Yet, it must be remembered that without the milkweed this dance of birth, death and rebirth belonging to the butterfly’s cycle of life would never occur. And currently there are countless milkweeds being cut down to make roads and move in so-called civilization.
And so, to save the milkweed is to save the Monarchs!
The question is, are Melanie’s fears of distinction truly founded on facts or are those who deny endangerment being truly objective? As it turns out, Melanie is right!
What you, the reader, may not know is that every fourth generation of monarchs migrates south from their habitats in America, east of the Rockies and Canada to hibernate in the warmer climates in order to return in the spring to start a new generation. This is nature’s way to assure the survival of the Monarch’s species. But according to the latest reports the Monarch wintering population has been reduced by 60%. The cause of this is first of all habitat loss (forest degradation) and herbicides which are eliminating food sources for the monarch. But just think about it—American farmers use over a billion tons of chemicals on crops each year. It does not take a scientist to conclude that this is simply unhealthy for the entire environment not excluding we human beings.
First if you would like to join Melanie in her quest to protect the Monarch by growing them in your own yard and you are in a climate that supports the life of Monarchs, let me know through my InfoBarrel inbox—give me your personal email and/or phone number and I will pass the information on to Melanie who can provide information to help you get started.
With the above said, I will share my personal views with you at this ending juncture of the article: As a species that literally has the very well-being of our entire planet in our own hands, we need to be far more conscientious and yes, generous to other species that make up our world.
For those who scoff at the idea of being concerned with topics such as global warming and the habitat of pygmies and…well butterflies, I have only this to say: You are ignorant of the relationship that you have with everyone else and every other living thing—You are driven by greed and self-centeredness which in the end, will become more lethal than nuclear bombs.
Something to contemplate!
A special thanks to Francis Wilcox for suggesting this article.
Note: This additional photograph was taken by Melanie Topalian
capturing that miraculous moment when the butterfly is leaving its chrysalis.