Monarch butterflies are getting noticed for the wrong reasons. Beautiful as they are, they are in trouble. Their numbers have tumbled in the last decade, down huge percentages, as much as 99%, due to vanishing habitats, overuse of pesticides, drought, wildfires, and climate change. Now short listed as candidates for various endangered species watch lists, monarchs may soon be added to the sad members of the Federal Endangered Species Act. The state of California has sounded the alarm and Del Mar is following up. Mayor Dwight Worden has taken the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge www.nwf.org/mayorsmonarchpledge.
Resident volunteers have joined the effort, including the Garden Club sponsored by The Del Mar Foundation, to establish a new monarch butterfly demonstration garden at the Civic Center Plaza’s north west planter. New soil is on the way. Once the soil is in place narrow leaf milkweed will be planted along with a selection of native plants that monarchs favor. When finished the garden will present a display with information on how you too can make a safe space for monarchs in your own yard.
Our butterflies, the western monarchs, separated by the Rocky Mountains, differ geographically from the eastern monarchs—the ones pictured as a cloud of orange winging their way to winter in Mexico’s Central Highlands. Though some of our western monarchs do fly south to Mexico, most spend their winters with us, right here in southern California, including in Del Mar. And, some decide to stay rather than traveling back to the Pacific Northwest.
The demonstration garden will illustrate how our western monarchs lay their eggs on narrow leaf milkweed leaves, the plant that best sustains them (as opposed to the tropical milkweed plant that interrupts their natural migration cycle cycle, and increases the risk to Monarchs of a protozoan parasite, OE). Once hatched, the larva, also known as very hungry caterpillars, eat up the milkweed in a mighty effort to increase their weight by 2,700 (!) times within about two weeks. (Happily, that stripped milkweed plant will grow up again.) Next: they quite amazingly transform into chrysalises where they are reformed to finally emerge as butterflies.
Look out for notices about the progress of this project and for the “grand opening” in the fall of the Monarch Butterfly Demonstration Garden.