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Loss of milkweed spells disaster for Monarchs

Imagine relying on only one food source – and what would happen if it suddenly began to disappear? That’s the fate faced by Monarch butterflies whose larvae feed solely on milkweed – a once abundant perennial wildflower that is now in peril.

Milkweed is in the genus Asclepius, named for the Greek god of healing because of many folk-remedies derived from it. It’s generally poisonous to insects, except to monarch larvae. The iconic orange and black butterflies evolved to lay their eggs on milkweed so when the larvae hatch they consume the leaves to grow as well as absorb the toxins as protection from predators. See their lifecycle in this eye-opening video:

Today, milkweed is diminishing from the American landscape at an alarming pace, mirroring a decrease in monarch eggs documented by researchers. At this rate, the beautiful creatures and their awe-inspiring migration to Mexico could soon come to an end.

All 100-plus species of milkweed in the U.S. are vanishing from overuse of herbicides in modern farming as well as booming land development. New subdivisions and shopping centers eat up fields at a rate of over 2 million acres – the size of Delaware and Rhode Island – every year!

Biofuel demand has fueled another crisis: in recent years a million acres of upper Midwest grasslands were plowed under to plant genetically modified soy and corn. GMO crops survive spraying with pesticides and herbicides, which increases yields but indiscriminately kills beneficial insects and wildflowers – a documented 60 to 80 percent drop in milkweed plants and a corresponding plunge in monarchs.

Urge the EPA to devise a strategy to save our majestic monarchs including protecting milkweed – sign our online petition today! 

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Lisa Powers writes and photographs for GreaterGood, is the proud dog-mama of Alaskan huskies, Ginger and Shiloh, and a self-proclaimed nature nerd. She recently moved back to her home state of Michigan after seven years on The Last Frontier, where she worked at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and wrestled birch bark off of firewood.