Preserving Milkweed to Preserve the Monarch

October 11, 2017

MonarchandMilkweed_DSCN2717 (1)
Photographer: Rob Sheridan 
Summary Author: Rob Sheridan 

Milkweed species provide critical fuel and shelter in support of the Monarch butterfly’s (Danaus plexippus) miraculous, multigenerational migration to Mexico and back. Adults drink the nectar and lay eggs on the leaves that the larvae consume. But milkweeds face many threats, from habitat loss to invasive parasites. The same milkweed plant pictured in an Earth Science Picture of the Day featured last year, rescued from invasive aphids with a with non-toxic soap insecticide, has grown to maturity and is now playing its critical role in support of Monarch migration.

Pictured is a male Monarch (sex discernible by black spots on lower inner wings) in a meadow near Squantum, Massachusetts, feeding on nectar from the flowers of a common milkweed plant (Asclepias incarnata). This male must have barely escaped a bird predator that left a bite mark on its right anterior wing. Also pictured are wasps feeding (and pollinating) on the same milkweed flowers. Life is tough for the dwindling numbers of persistent Monarchs who hazard hunger and predators to complete their incredible life cycle. Cultivating milkweed may help preserve this inspiring and beautiful animal. Photo taken on July 16, 2017.

Photo Details: Camera: NIKON COOLPIX P900; Focal Length: 143.0mm (35mm equivalent: 800mm); Aperture: ƒ/5.6; Exposure Time: 0.0020 s (1/500); ISO equiv: 100.