EDITORIAL: Support the monarch

·2 min read

Aug. 26—Though one Missouri county declared itself a kingdom during the Civil War, Missourians generally reject the idea of a monarchy; however, residents now should do what they can to support monarchs of a different sort.

Close your eyes and think of a butterfly. Did you envision the familiar orange-and-black monarch butterfly? Large numbers will flock through our area in September on their southward migration of thousands of miles to wintering grounds in Mexico.

These beloved butterflies are in danger.

In July, the monarch was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "red list" as endangered.

Why should we care? The butterflies are an important pollinator, and their population plunge is a red flag. The 90% decline in monarch numbers since 1998 is an indicator of an ecosystem in trouble.

Once common, they are threatened by habitat loss and the widespread application of pesticides and herbicides.

Scientists and naturalists say the public can boost the numbers of this pretty pollinator in several ways:

—Plant native milkweeds. Missouri Department of Conservation lists several at https://mdc.mo.gov/attracting-wildlife/attracting-monarch-butterflies/native-plants-monarchs, including common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, purple milkweed and more.

Milkweeds serve as nursery plants for monarchs to lay their eggs. The plants are the only source of food the caterpillars can eat.

—Preserve or provide patches of wildflowers around your home and garden that adult monarchs rely on for food.

After monarch caterpillars become butterflies, they feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, helping to spread pollen from one group of plants to the next.

—Set up a butterfly puddling station — a small puddle of water and sand in a sunny spot with a flat stone for the butterflies to perch on. Butterflies will sun themselves on the stone to raise their temperatures, and will sip water from the puddle to get salts and minerals they need.

—Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides in your lawn and garden.

"People need to be planting the milkweed plant because that is the food source for monarch butterfly," Robin Standridge, of the Wildcat Glades Friends Group, said. "One milkweed plant is enough (to feed) a family of monarchs."

For residents interested in purchasing milkweed plants, two vendors will offer them for sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, 201 W. Riviera Drive in Joplin.

The plants can be purchased during the annual Monarch Festival, which is scheduled that weekend.