Each year in late summer and early fall, the monarch butterflies start their migration from the northern parts of the United States and Canada. Most of them fly down toward the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, but not all. Some take other routes, heading toward Florida instead, or the California coast.
At times, their ultimate destination may be decided by wind patterns. These black and yellow butterflies can travel as far as 50-100 miles a day, and it can take them as long as two months to complete their southward trek.
Those who successfully make it down south will stay there over the winter, and then head back north again in the spring. As explained in the one article:
“During the journey north, monarchs produce four generations. So, a butterfly might get as far as Texas, for example, where it lays eggs and dies. The next generation might get as far as Kansas, the one after that, Minnesota.
“In the fall, the migration south begins again. The butterflies in the fourth generation live eight or nine months and can make it as far south as Mexico.”
A large swath of this migratory path runs through the American Corn Belt, where most of the crops grown are now genetically engineered and heavily doused with Roundup. Earlier this year, a number of media reports brought attention to the urgent plight of the monarch butterfly, which is nearing extinction unless action is taken to protect critical plant life – unless limits are set on the use of toxic agricultural chemicals.
Migrating monarchs are truly amazing. It takes three generations for the migrating monarchs in Mexico to reach the upper United States. Then, the fourth generation flies more than 2,000 miles back to Mexico to start the process all over again.
In 1996, migrating monarchs covered 45 acres of forest in central Mexico, each acre holding an estimated 25 million butterflies. In December 2013, the butterflies covered a mere 1.5 acres. In California, the monarch population has dropped by an estimated 80 percent over the past 15 years.
Milkweed is Essential for Monarch Survival
If you’re like most people, you might not realize the monarch butterfly cannot survive without the ample presence of milkweed. This perennial plant is the only plant on which the monarch will lay its eggs. Once the larvae hatch, the caterpillar eats the plant. Without milkweed along its migratory path, the monarch simply cannot reproduce.
Tragically, a vast majority of the milkweed you’d normally find in fields across the United States have been steadily eliminated as farmers have opted to grow genetically engineered corn and soy.
As more and more land is converted into G.E. crop fields, where everything except G.E. plants is killed off by toxic herbicides, important pollinators like bees and butterflies are being decimated. As reported by USA Today:
“‘Monarchs are pollinators, which makes them important for plant reproduction. They also share habitat with small birds and animals, which feed larger birds and animals,’ Taylor said. ‘Monarchs reflect ecosystem health and biodiversity.’
“‘Monarchs are symbolic of what’s happening on a larger scale,’ [founder and director of Monarch Watch Chip] Taylor said. ‘You eliminate monarchs, and you eliminate everything else that shares that habitat.’”
Is Your Garden Toxic
The use of toxic chemicals is certainly not restricted to G.E.-crop fields, and much can be done to protect critical pollinators from extinction by reevaluating the herbicides and pesticides used at home, at work, and around schools and public areas. For example, a pilot study published in 2013 revealed that more than half of garden plants attractive to bees and sold at Lowe’s are pre-treated with neurotoxic pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are now proven lethal to bees.
These insecticides weaken the bees’ immune systems to the point of failure, allowing secondary infections from parasites, mites, viruses, fungi, and bacteria to take hold. This is one scientific explanation for the phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, in which entire hives die or disappear without a trace, all at once.
Neonicotinoid-treated plants sold at garden centers across the United States include tomatoes, squash, salvia, and various flowering plants that are attractive to pollinators. This is no small concern when you consider that bees are absolutely critical for pollinating food crops, and they can collect nectar from miles around their hives.
In urban areas, public and private gardens can certainly support or harm bee populations, and without bees, we stand to lose one-third of all fruits, nuts, and vegetables – at least 130 different crop varieties in all. Needless to say, avoiding pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate is important for your own health, too. According to Lisa Archer, director of the Food and Technology Program at Friends of the Earth:
“Our investigation is the first to show that so-called ‘bee-friendly’ garden plants contain pesticides that can poison bees, with no warning to gardeners. Bees are essential to our food system, and they are dying at alarming rates. Neonic pesticides are a key part of the problem we can start to fix right now in our own backyards.”
Ending Glyphosate Use is Critical for All Life on Planet Earth
Besides protecting the monarch butterfly, there are many other reasons to insist on the removal of glyphosate from agricultural use. The documented harmful effects of glyphosate extend not just to critical pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, but also to soil, plant, animal, and human health. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup is doing far more harm than anyone ever expected, and it’s time to put on the brakes before it’s too late.
On numerous occasions, I’ve stated that the differences between industrial farming and organic farming (using time-tested, all-natural methods) are so vast that foods produced by the former cannot be equated to foods produced by the latter. Use of genetically engineered plants only deepens the many problems associated with conventional, chemical-heavy farming. The environmental effects are also 180 degrees opposed, as industrial farming contributes to every form of environmental devastation, while organic farming methods restore the environment and invigorate and support the ecosystem – of which humans are an integral part, I might add.
Many equate modern techniques with “progress,” when in fact most of our technological advancements are now threatening to destroy us right along with the planet as a whole. Think about this: Nearly 1 billion pounds of Roundup is used each year for conventional crop production. Knowing what we now know about the toxicity of glyphosate (as well as glyphosate-based formulations that can be even more toxic than glyphosate alone), it’s quite clear we’re well on our way toward disaster.
Genetically engineered crops are typically the most heavily sprayed, as so-called Roundup Ready crops are designed to withstand otherwise lethal doses of this chemical. The contamination issue is yet another valid reason for avoiding conventionally-grown foods in general, and genetically engineered foods in particular. And since genetically engineered foods tend to contain far higher levels of contamination, it’s also another reason for labeling foods that contain G.E. ingredients.
Take Action to Protect Bees and Butterflies
Without doubt, we must take action to protect both bees and monarchs, and there are multiple ways you can do so. First, I urge you to sign the petition created by Friends of the Earth, asking the CEO of Lowe’s to stop selling bee-killing pesticides and neonicotinoid-treated plants. Since this petition was first created, Home Depot has opened up to dialogue on this issue, while Lowe’s has remained resistant.
Another way to make your voice heard is by signing the Center for Food Safety’s petition, urging the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and President Obama to protect the monarchs’ breeding habitat by halting the approval of Monsanto Roundup Ready™ and other glyphosate-resistant and pesticide-promoting, genetically engineered crops. As noted by the Los Angeles Times:
“‘Since federal glyphosate rules were last updated a decade ago, its use has spiked tenfold to 182 million pounds a year, largely due to the introduction and popularity of corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist the herbicide. The tenfold increase in the amount of glyphosate being used corresponds with huge losses of milkweed and the staggering decline of the monarch,’ Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC senior scientist, said in an interview. ‘We are seeking new safeguards desperately needed to allow enough milkweed to grow. … The good news is that butterflies are resilient and can rebound quickly. … All they need is milkweed on which to lay their eggs.’”
How to Promote Bee and Butterfly Populations from Home
To avoid harming bees and other helpful pollinators that visit your garden, swap out toxic pesticide and lawn chemicals for organic weed- and pest-control alternatives. Better yet, get rid of your lawn altogether and plant an edible organic garden. Both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honey bee habitats. It’s also recommended to keep a small basin of fresh water in your garden or backyard, as bees actually do get thirsty.
Whatever you choose to grow, please avoid purchasing pesticide-treated plants. Ideally, you’ll want to grow your own pollinator-friendly plants from organic, untreated seeds. But if you opt to purchase starter plants, make sure to ask whether or not they’ve been pre-treated with pesticides. To help boost monarch populations specifically, make sure you provide them with a place to reproduce by growing some milkweed in your garden. To get you started, I’m giving away free milkweed seeds with every order placed in my online store, starting May 19 until the seeds run out.
Keep in mind that you are also helping to save the bees every time you shop organic. This way, you can actually “vote” for less pesticides and herbicides with each and every meal you eat. Taking bee preservation yet another step further, try your hand at becoming an amateur beekeeper. Having a hive in your garden requires only about an hour of your time per week, benefits your local ecosystem, and you can enjoy your own honey. Even city dwellers are now becoming adept smalltime beekeepers! For more information about bee preservation, the following organizations are a good place to start.
- Pesticide Action Network Bee Campaign
- The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees
- American Beekeeping Federation
- Help the Honey Bees