The endangered monarch | The Weekly Source


HThe headlines of conservation magazines and even newspapers screamed, “Monarch butterflies on the brink of extinction! And they are, from Maine to California. Their populations have fallen by more than 90% in the West and up to 84% in the East.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which recently added the monarch to its red list and designated it as “endangered”, three threats have caused monarch populations to decline: the loss of habitat, widespread use of agricultural chemicals and climate change.

Milkweed is key to the survival of monarch butterflies, and the decision to list the monarch as endangered will hopefully place some protection on milkweed. It is the only plant that caterpillars can eat. Unfortunately, the farming community has been systematically destroying milkweed since the cattle industry discovered that the plant makes cows sick if they eat it. Now that same agricultural industry is killing even more milkweed with herbicides and by preventing irrigation water from reaching them, guaranteeing monarch annihilation everywhere.

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  • jim anderson
  • Life history of monarch butterfly, monarch egg.

Our monarchs, found on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, spend the winter congregating on the California coast, several locations in Arizona and some join their eastern cousins ​​in Mexico. When the sun tells them spring has arrived, they head north to the first patch of milkweed, lay eggs, and eventually die. When this new group matures, it continues north to the next patch of milkweed, lays eggs, and eventually dies. This process eventually brings the monarchs to Canada, and they spend the summer breeding in patches of local milkweed until the sun tells them winter is coming.

At this point, there is no more spawning in the monarch society. Instead, they took on fat, preparing to fly south thousands of miles to where they will winter with their friends.

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Life history of monarch butterfly, monarch caterpillar [larva].  -JIM ANDERSON

  • jim anderson
  • Life history of monarch butterfly, monarch caterpillar [larva].

Throughout their lives, monarch butterflies need nectar from flowers to fuel their flight and milkweed to lay their eggs. No other plant will do. Climate change is altering the seasonal availability of these monarch staples and accelerating habitat loss from wildfires.

One of the finest monarch conservation projects to take place in central Oregon was the development of a roadside at Sisters Middle School.

‘Journey’s Flight’, a book about the travels of a tagged monarch from this roadside, was written by students in Mrs. Susie Werts’ class and is well worth reading.

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Life history of the monarch butterfly, Monarch Chrysalis.  -JIM ANDERSON

  • jim anderson
  • Life history of monarch butterfly, Monarch Chrysalis.

The photos at the top of this story will give you an insight into the life of a monarch butterfly, from egg to adult. In monarchs, an egg is laid under the large leaf of a milkweed. In the short time the female takes during the first egg-laying process, she will deposit 300-500 – all on the milkweed. Oh yes, she can mate again and again, and before her job is done, she will have laid up to 1,800 eggs.

From three to eight days, nothing seems to happen because the eggs remain quietly stuck to the bottom of the leaf. Then a slight tremor begins to shake the egg and it slowly opens, releasing a tiny greyish/green caterpillar which immediately begins to eat its egg and the area around its feet.

There are five stages, called stages, in the life of the caterpillar. When hatched, the tiny larva is almost translucent, but has a large black head and is about 1/8 inch long.

The second stage develops a pattern of white, yellow and black bands on the outside of the growing body. He is now about 1/2 inch long and is very busy gobbling up as many milkweeds as he can hold. This coloring of its growing body is a very visible warning to birds – like bushtits – that it’s not a good thing to eat.

The third instar caterpillar continues to nibble on the upper surface of the leaf, safe from predators due to its bright black, white and yellow stripes, and is nearly an inch long.

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Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle, Emerging Adult Monarch - JIM ANDERSON

  • jim anderson
  • Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle, Emerging Adult Monarch

The fourth and fifth instars have a more complex banding pattern with white dots appearing on the prolegs near its back, and if another caterpillar begins to compete with it, a very exciting battle will develop. At full size, the larva will measure almost 2 inches in length.

Now comes the time for the miracle of metamorphosis. The caterpillar’s tiny brain has one purpose in life: to find what it “thinks” is a safe place on a nearby plant and spin a silken pad on a downward-facing surface. At this point, it turns its head down and with its hind legs grasps the silk pad. All movement stops.

It hangs in this “J” shape for a while, then the caterpillar’s outer skin splits open, revealing a lime green chrysalis with gold flecks around the outside. And it is within this chrysalis that the miracle of metamorphosis will take place.

Oh, how I wish I could witness this biological masterpiece. This large living caterpillar is now beginning to dissolve into a genetic “soup” as Life continues to unfold. As the living cells begin to change, we see three distinct parts of the body begin to form: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. Within these parts of the body are different eyes, different mouth parts, a reproductive system, a respiratory system, a brain, and muscles to drive the growing wings and six legs.

It will take eight to 15 days, then the chrysalis will turn transparent and within 12 hours its skin will split and the adult monarch will emerge. The new adult will begin to inflate its wings with fluid and prepare for flight. The same message of protection is displayed with those large orange and black wings. You, dear readers, can play a big role in helping this species succeed. If you have an area in your place that is wet most of the year, please start a colony of showy milkweed, or water starvation, narrow-leaved milkweed. Then, to be 100% successful in this activity, plant a large pollinator garden, perhaps where there once was a lawn or a pile of stones. Not only will you hit a home run with milkweed, but you’ll have the bases loaded with the pollinator garden.

Locally, you can go to Winter Creek Nursery for native milkweed plants ( and Deschutes Land Trust for seeds ( Additionally, the Xerces Society ( and Monarch Joint Venture ( have great information and ideas on how to save monarchs.

Editor’s note: The Facebook group, “Elbow in Pollinator Pathis another useful resource for information and inspiration on pollinator gardens in the region.


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