As I lay in my New Jersey bed early this morning I remembered about the monarchs. I remembered that yesterday my wife and I had discovered a tiny monarch butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed leaf we had brought back from a hike a few days ago. And as I got up to go check on that one, I hoped that the other milkwood leaf on which we had also seen a teeny, tiny monarch egg would also yield, this morning, the appearance of a caterpillar.
It did. We now have our first two monarch caterpillars of this summer season. Last summer we found, raised and released 108 monarch butterflies.
We have been doing this for the last five or six years. Up until last year the most we had raised in a single summer, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, was about 30.
It was very exciting to experience the dramatic increase in monarch sightings in this area—and in many other parts of the country east of the Rockies—last summer. There were some days in August at the height of the season when I would find 10 eggs on the milkweed leaves in our garden. And the report from Michoacan, Mexico, where most monarchs go for the winter, was that the estimated butterfly population this past winter was 300 million, double what it was the year before.
Why do we do this? We do so, first, because the monarchs as a species are endangered, primarily because of industrial agriculture and the widespread use of pesticides, which destroys both milkweed plants and nectar-providing flowers, the two things monarchs need to continue to exist.
Fortunately, over the past decade or more, a growing number of people are responding to this situation by planting milkweed and flowers in their backyards or in community gardens, and it is definitely helping.
We also raise monarchs because we have learned from others who have been doing this longer than us that the odds of an egg becoming a butterfly are increased tremendously if the eggs and caterpillars are protected from their natural predators — spiders, other insects and birds.
The vast majority of eggs never make it to the butterfly stage because they become food for these predators. This didn’t matter in the past when there were as many as a billion or more butterflies being created each year because there were so many more of them. But it matters now when their numbers have dropped so precipitously.
The other reason we raise them is to experience the incredible miracle of creation up close and personal.
Think of it: monarchs begin as tiny, white eggs no larger than the head of a pin. They become colorful, yellow, black and white caterpillars, then miraculously turn into a first-green, then black, chrysalis out of which, about a month after being a pin-sized egg, they emerge as a beautiful black and orange butterfly. Then these seemingly fragile creatures head south, most of them to the area in Michoacan, Mexico where they have been going for centuries, a smaller number to other areas near the equator. Some fly as far as 3,000 miles.
To be reminded each day of this summer season about all of this truly miraculous natural process is a very good way to deepen the awesome connection to the natural world that we all need in this time of climate and environmental emergency. It is inspiring. It maintains and strengthens our commitment to the struggle to transform the world. It is humbling. And it is the right thing to do.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.