Monarchs need habitat with milkweed plants

THREATS TO MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

It is predicted that one of the many effects of climate change will be wetter and colder winters. If they are dry, monarchs can survive below freezing temperatures, but if they get wet and the temperature drops they will freeze to death. Because hundreds of millions of monarchs are located in such a small area in the Sierra Nevada of Mexico during the winter, a cold snap there could be devastating.

Did You Know?

Monarch butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees. They will sit in the sun or "shiver" their wings to warm up.

As the world warms, suitable habitat will begin to move northward resulting in a longer migration. This means the monarchs may be forced to adapt and produce another generation to reach further north. It is uncertain whether they will be able to do so. Therefore, few monarchs may be able to make the longer trip back to Mexico for winter.

Other threats to the monarch include habitat loss and loss of milkweed which they depend upon as larva to survive.

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MONARCH'S HOST PLANT IS MILKWEED

The monarch will always return to areas rich in milkweed to lay their eggs upon the plant. The milkweed they feed on as a caterpillar is actually a poisonous toxin and is stored in their bodies. This is what makes the monarch butterfly taste so terrible to predators.

Got Milkweed?

You can help monarchs by planting native milkweeds in your yard. Ask your local garden center for “butterfly,” “swamp,” “common,” “purple,” “poke” and “whorled” milkweeds, and make sure they have not been treated with pesticides.

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SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES

Among the most striking and recognizable butterflies of Northwest Washington are the swallowtails, a family of large-winged insects with distinctive tiger-stripe markings and a namesake “tail” that extends from their bottom wing.

Both the Eastern and Western tiger swallowtail and the pale swallowtail are found in Washington state. Both are common from May to September, flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar.

Swallowtails in our Pacific Northwest area can be divided into two groups: "black" swallowtails and "tiger" swallowtails.  The first are generally known by their half black, half yellow wings, relatively short tails, and large red eyespot on the hindwing.  The second are known by their familiar black tiger stripes on mostly yellow (or white) wings and longer tails.  As larvae, black swallowtails primarily feed on plants in the parsley family, including desert parsley (Lomatium spp.) with the exception of the Oregon Swallowtail, which feeds only on tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus).  Tiger swallowtails primarily feed on broadleaf trees such as willow, birch, aspen, and chokecherry.  All swallowtails overwinter as a brown or green chrysalis.

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SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION

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Swallowtails in our area can be divided into two groups: "black" swallowtails and "tiger" swallowtails.  The first are generally known by their half black, half yellow wings, relatively short tails, and large red eyespot on the hindwing.  The second are known by their familiar black tiger stripes on mostly yellow (or white) wings and longer tails.  As larvae, black swallowtails primarily feed on plants in the parsley family, including desert parsley (Lomatium spp.) with the exception of the Oregon Swallowtail, which feeds only on tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus).  

Tiger swallowtails primarily feed on broadleaf trees such as willow, birch, aspen, and chokecherry.  All swallowtails overwinter as a brown or green chrysalis.

Anise Swallowtails are common throughout Oregon and Washington.  They are deep yellow and the black pupil in the eyespot is completely surrounded by red.  Oregon Swallowtails are restricted to east-side locations where their host tarragon is found.  They are butter-yellow and the black pupil is bordered by yellow on the lower edge, or is sometimes much reduced (see below).

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SWALLOWTAILS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

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SWALLOWTAIL FOOD PLANTS

“Black Swallowtails use members of the carrot family (Apiaceae) including parsley, fennel, dill, Queen Anne’s Lace, and carrots.”

Host Plants

 

Swallowtail caterpillar

Black swallowtail caterpillars feed on many of the plants in the Apiaceae family of plants, which includes parsley, carrots, celery, etc.

The list of host plants includes:

  • Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

  • Carrots (Daucus carota)

  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

  • Celery (Apium graveolens)

  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)

  • Caraway (Carum carvi)

  • Herbwilliam or Mock Bishop’s Weed (Ptilimnium capillaceum)

  • Spotted Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

  • Water Cowbane (Oxypolis filiformis)

  • Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

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PACIFIC NORTHWEST SWALLOWTAILS

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Western Tiger Swallowtails are bright lemon yellow with wide black tiger stripes and a single tail.  Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtails are usually darker yellow (faded individuals may appear more similar to Western Tigers in color), have narrow tiger stripes, and a small second tail.  Female Two-tailed Tigers often have wider stripes and appear more like Western Tigers, but are generally larger and have the second tail.  Western Tigers are found throughout Washington and Oregon, while Two-tailed Tigers are only found from the crest of the Cascade range eastward, except in southern Oregon where they range out to the coast.  Pale Tiger Swallowtails are white or cream with wide black stripes and are found through most of western Washington and Oregon and most forested parts of the eastern side of the states.

PLANT BUTTERFLY GARDENS 

8 Ways that you can help save monarch butterflies​

1. Plant Milkweed Native to Your Area

We can’t stress this one highly enough. The monarchs in your region will need to eat indigenous milkweed plants, so find out which ones are native to your area, and plant away. Then plant some more. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even do a bit of milkweed guerilla gardening and plant seeds or seedlings in unused, vacant areas as well as your own yard.

2. Don’t Use Pesticides!!

We can’t stress this strongly enough: don’t use pesticides anywhere on your land. Not only do pesticides kill many types of insect larvae (including butterfly…), they often contain an herbicide called glyphosate, which destroys milkweed. Milkweed is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay eggs in, and its leaves are the sole food eaten by this butterfly’s larvae, so killing it off = destroying monarchs forever.

Related: Monarch butterfly numbers drop to lowest level in recorded history

 

3. Create a Monarch Way-Station

Let a part of your yard get overgrown, and fill it with milkweed plants. Set out a butterfly-safe watering dish where the little ones can stop to drink, and you’ll ensure that they have a safe place to stop, rest, and regroup during their migration.

4. Use FSC-Certified Wood

Most monarchs migrate to Mexico for the winter, but illegal logging in that country has decimated the forests where these butterflies usually congregate. Buying FSC-certified wood helps to protect those forests, ensuring that the monarchs have a habitat to return to.

 

5. Avoid Eating GMO Foods

Those horrible “Roundup-Ready” frankenseeds are resistant to the aforementioned glyphosate, so farmers use significantly more pesticides and herbicides to kill weeds… and those high amounts of glyphosate wreak absolute havoc on nearby milkweed.

Related: U.S. Government launches $3.5 million campaign to save monarch butterflies

6. Do Your Part to Combat Climate Change

Drive less, reduce the waste you create, ensure that your home is as energy-efficient as possible, buy organic. Every little bit of effort helps to reduce our impact on the climate.

 

7. Educate Yourself

Learn as much as you can about local dangers to monarch habitats, and determine what kind of action would be best for you to take. If you don’t have land of your own, you could look into the possibility of volunteering at a community garden space. There might even be butterfly conservation groups in your area that you could help out with. Even if you’re not interested in taking a hands-on approach to helping, you can at least learn how to do as little harm to the butterflies as possible.

8. Spread the Word!

 The more people who know how to help these winged wonders, the better