Fall is a special time of year. A long anticipated reprieve from our hot southern summers. But what I love most about fall, is watching the monarch butterflies begin their arduous migration to Mexico.
I have always been enchanted by monarch butterflies. Who can resist? Their colors of orange and black make a vivid contrast. Especially when you’re watching them float through the bright blue sky. But what is more impressive than the monarchs’ appearance is their epic migratory journey.
This tenacious species of butterfly makes a yearly journey from Canada to Mexico. Their migration is the longest annual insect migration in the world. And as remarkable as all that is, what matters more is what these butterflies symbolize.
In the Mexican mountains where the monarchs hibernate, the local people prepare for their arrival. You see, it is almost like clockwork that the butterflies arrive there just in time for the celebration of El Dia de los Muertos. Because of this perfect timing, the people have come to believe that the monarchs represent the spirits of their lost loved ones.
Mothers who have lost children; men who have lost their wives; each person who misses someone takes hope when they see the flocks of monarchs arrive. In this culture, these little bugs symbolize love, loss, hope, and rebirth.
It would be hard to imagine a fall when the monarchs don’t fly past us; down into Mexico, to greet their friends and family. But that could be a reality we all may have to face one day. Their population has been in a steady decline over the past ten years due to loss of nectar and host plants along their migratory path. Cold winters and loss of overwintering habitat in Mexico also challenge the species.
If you enjoy watching these butterflies flutter above you, consider what you can do. Plant a butterfly waystation garden full of host plants (milkweed) and nectar plants like buddleia, lantana, pentas, and salvia. Avoid using systemic insecticides in your garden, as that chemical is transferred to all parts of the plant (including the nectar)! What you do at your home will have an impact and we can be an integral part in the effort to save the monarch butterflies.
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