I am often asked the following question at my butterfly and pollinator garden design lectures. How exactly are Monsanto’s products ravaging the Monarch Butterfly population?
First, it is important to understand that all butterfly caterpillars rely on plant foods specific to each species of butterfly. For example, Monarch caterpillars only eat members of the milkweed family, Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat plants in the carrot family, and Heliconian butterflies eat plants in the passionflower family. Some caterpillars, like the larvae of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail eat plants from a wide range of plant families. That being said, it is worth repeating that Monarch caterpillars only survive on members of the milkweed family.
Imagine a farm with row upon row of corn. Growing amongst and around the edges of the cornfields are wildflowers of all sorts, including milkweed. The wildflowers draw to the fields myriad pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds.
Monsanto has genetically modified the seed of corn and soybeans so that it will withstand extremely heavy doses of its herbicide, called Roundup. Monsanto’s corn and soybean seed is actually called Roundup Ready. Roundup Ready plants can withstand massive doses of the herbicide Roundup, but the milkweed and other wildflowers growing in the corn and soybean fields cannot.
Each year massive amounts of Roundup are sprayed on the corn and soybean fields, killing everything in sight, except the Roundup Ready corn and soybean. Additionally, Monsanto’s Roundup contains the active ingredient glyphosate, which has been tied to more health and environmental problems than you can possibly imagine.
Now imagine you are a Monarch Butterfly, having flown hundreds of miles northward towards breeding grounds of milkweed. But there is no milkweed to deposit your eggs. The circle in the chain of life is broken.
Since the use of genetically modified Roundup Ready began, milkweed has disappeared from over 100 million acres of row crops, or a roughly 58 percent decrease. Milkweed is not only the Monarch caterpillar host (or food) plant, the nectar-rich florets provide nourishment for hundreds of species of bees and other Lepidoptera.
The Monarch Butterfly migration is one of the great migrations of the world. Climate change and the loss of habitat are also factors in the decrease of butterflies. The Mexican government and the people of Mexico have enacted policies to help protect from logging the remaining oyamel fur trees in the Monarchs winter habitat.
There are several steps that we in the United States can undertake. 1) Avoid as much as possible genetically modified food, especially corn and soybean products. 2) If you own shares of Monsanto stock, get rid of it (Monsanto also developed Agent Orange). Thirdly, we need to start a national movement to cultivate milkweed and to create awareness about the important role wildflowers play in our ecosystem.
Calling Everyone: Plant Milkweed! No matter how small or large your garden, give a spot over to milkweed and watch your garden come to life!