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 through the course of several generations, they make their way back north, 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. National Wildlife Federation has great resources to begin your Monarch journal of discovery.
Nebraska Wildlife Federation promotes Monarch and pollinator habitat restoration through the various NWF Garden for Wildlife programs as well as locally lead efforts encouraging the planting of native milkweeds and nectar-rich native plants on the landscape.
With past support from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, we hosted free workshops to teach people how to make a place for wildlife in their own backyard. Our schoolyard habitat workshops showed educators how to establish pollinator gardens and use them as outdoor classrooms.
We help convinced convince past Mayor’s of the City of Lincoln and Papillion, Nebraska to take the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. We encourage you to contact you communities Mayor and ask them to take the Pledge!
Images by Ron Holmes, US FWS.