Tuesday, November 4, 2014

VOTE for Monarchs

America is a great nation of democracy.  Since election day is on everyone's mind, it is a good time to stress the importance of voting.  You might think it odd that I would promote having a Monarch.  After all the jib-jabs back and forth, the ultimate insult to a President is to suggest he acts like a monarch or king.  Opposing politicians did it with Kennedy, the Bushs' reign and now Obama.  It cuts both ways.  But we do have one Monarch we should all vote for: Danaus plexippus, the Monarch butterfly. 

Danaus plexippus, Monarch   photo C. Harner
Once the reigning butterfly of America, the most recognized lepidoptera to take to the sky, our Monarch is in a tragic decline.  I wrote about it here  and gave a presentation on the midwest migratory Monarchs at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Conservation Symposium about a month ago.  The fact remains: Monarchs are in serious trouble.  

Monarch lifestages, by artist Ann Geise
Monarchs are members of the subfamily Danaus or Milkweed butterflies.  All of these butterflies use a milkweed as a host plant.  The caterpillars ingest toxins from the milkweed- cardiac glycosides. The main study on the host plant and the butterflies' toxicity were conducted by "Browers barfing Blue Jays." I had often wondered what scientist had the job of watching birds vomit and now I know: meet Dr. Lincoln Brower.

Milkweed authority Roger Troutman and Monarch expert Dr. Lincoln Brower
 It turns out, Dr. Brower and I have a mutual friend, Roger Troutman.  Not only an avid birder and excellent naturalist, Roger is an authority on Asclepias, or Milkweed.  Years ago he worked with Dr. Brower when they visited many milkweed patches in Florida and studied the toxicity of the various milkweeds.

Roger and I recently travelled to Indiana to attend the INPAWS (Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society) annual conference.  Dr. Brower was a Keynote speaker, who entertained and informed the audience on the current standing of the declining Monarchs. We learned there is currently an effort to list Monarchs as a "Threatened" species.

To VOTE click : http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/
PLEASE take the time to click on the link above  to add your name to the petition. We simply should not allow the extinction of the greatest gateway insect for budding entomologists. The Monarch is an iconic species of America, you might even say it is the Bald Eagle of the insect world.

We need to pay attention to this dramatic decline, before Monarchs are completely wiped out.  Their population has fallen by 90% in just the last four years!  Scientists believe the problem used to be deforestation in Mexico, but now and even bigger issue is the combination of herbicides and pesticides being used in our farm fields.  It is time to realize the butterflies are bio indicators and Monarchs have become the "Canary in the cornfields."

"Weedpicker" Cheryl Harner and Dr. Lincoln Brower
Think about your yard and neighborhood.  Did you see Monarch butterflies this summer? How about other beneficial pollinators, were they AWOL?  Maybe it is time to plant some Milkweed and nectar plants in your yard. While you are thinking about helping us create a better world for those buzzing and flapping creatures who make our lives possible, remember pesticides kill ALL insects! Pesticides are non-selective; everybody dies!  Life is all about the food chain, kids.  If the insects don't eat, none of the higher life forms eat either.  This is a wonderfully complicated world in which we live.

If you want to know more about butterflies, host plants and nectar sources, please pick up a copy of Jeffrey Belth's book, Butterflies of Indiana.  His excellent book provides the information Ohioans need as well. If you would like to meet Jeff in person, join us at the January 17th, 2015 Ohio Lepidopterist meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

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