Monarch butterflies are one of nature’s most amazing stories.
These tiny, beautiful creatures fly several thousand miles from the Great Plains and the eastern USA to spend the winter in a small forest in the mountains of Central Mexico. In the spring they make their way back north, over several generations, spreading out across the continent.
Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweeds — and only milkweeds — including 17 milkweed species known to be native to Nebraska. When hatched, the caterpillars eat the milkweed leaves, which contain cardenolides, a toxic steroid compound that is absorbed into the caterpillar body and makes them toxic and bad-tasting to birds, mice and other predators. When Monarchs transform into butterflies, the toxin remains in their body, providing protection against predators.
Monarch butterflies, like native bees, honey bees, and many other pollinators, rely on nectar-rich flowers for their nutrition. Sadly, their reliance on milkweeds and wildflowers has left Monarchs vulnerable. Loss of milkweeds, loss of native prairie, increasingly effective pesticides and other challenges have reduced the Monarch butterfly population by about 90% in just the past 20 years. Many other pollinators are in sharp decline as well.
Nebraska Wildlife Federation is working to restore Monarch and pollinator habitat on the landscape, by encouraging the planting of milkweeds and nectar-rich native plants on the landscape. With support from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, we are hosting free workshops to teach people how to make a place for wildlife in their own backyard. Our schoolyard habitat workshops show educators how to establish pollinator gardens and use them as outdoor classrooms.
We are also working to establish Monarch & Pollinator Demonstration Gardens to show people how to make a place for Monarchs and other pollinators in their own backyard or neighborhood.
Images by Ron Holmes, US FWS.