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If you plant it, they will come... We're talking, of course, about the birds, bees and, yes, even bugs, that are essential to every garden. Besides being necessary pollinators, these creatures are just plain fun to watch. This spring, the club's Birds and Wildlife Committee, headed by Judie Alloway, embarked on a brand-new project: installing Monarch breeding stations up and down the island.
Although there has been some good news recently--the number of Monarchs returning to Mexico this past winter was three-and-a-half times greater than the year before--we can't become complacent. To offer some perspective: Monarch populations are measured in acres and while last winter's 10 acres was a measurable improvement, it's still a lot lower than the 44 acres covered in 1995.
In those 20 years (1995-2015), the population of Monarch butterflies in the Eastern United States has declined by more than 90 percent. That's because civilization (housing developments, malls and shopping centers) is displacing--and herbicides are killing--milkweed, a plant absolutely vital to the Monarch's survival. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund has gone so far as to warn that the mysterious and magnificent migration of the Monarch is in danger of disappearing.
But there is something we can do--and this spring the garden club did it. We planted milkweed (Asclepias), a backyard plant on which Monarch caterpillars feed. The two types best-suited for our area are Asclepias incarnata, a pale pink-to-purple variety, and Asclepias tuberosa, a bright orange.
We've also provided instructional material at the sites to educate the public about the importance of planting milkweed, which types are best for LBI, and what to look for once the Monarch has laid her eggs (see Raising Monarchs, below).
So far, two sites are operational, outside Scojo's restaurant in Surf City and at the Beach Haven Library. You'll recognize the breeding stations by the signs (below left). And, don't forget to ask for the informational handout provided inside Scojo's and the library.
Stage 1: The Egg (3-4 days)
The tiny oval dots on the milkweed plant (left) are actually Monarch eggs. In three or four days, a baby caterpillar will start to chew through the egg. Once he pokes his head out, he'll turn around and eat his shell, a vital source of nutrients. When that's gone, the milkweed becomes his only food source.
Knowing that their offspring can't travel far, mothers will lay their eggs only on the milkweed plant.
Stage 2: The Larva (10-14 days)
During this stage, what we call caterpillars, the larva's main job is to eat and eat and eat! As he grows from feasting on all that milkweed, the larva will shed--and eat--his own skin five times!
Stage 3: The Pupa (10-14 days)
When the larva is finished growing, it forms a chrysalis, inside of which the transformation from pupa to Monarch butterfly is completed.
Stage 4: Adult (2-5 weeks)
At this stage, the chrysalis bursts open and a beautiful Monarch emerges. Adults live from two to five weeks and will mate repeatedly over their life spans.The final generation of Eastern Monarchs, which emerges in early fall, migrate to Central Mexico where they overwinter, surviving up to nine months, until it's time to fly north and start the cycle again.
To learn more about the life cycle of the Monarch and to see pictures of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, click here.
Attracting Monarchs to your garden...
Here are just a few of the local plants that will draw adult Monarchs to your garden.
Birds and Wildlife Chair Judie Alloway (right) plants Asclepias incarnata, aka milkweed, at Socjo's restaurant in Surf City, the site of the club's first Monarch breeding station.