My friend Theresa Mitrovitz from Tupper Lake has a small marvel in her yard this week which, if replicated in thousands more backyards, could help save the Eastern migration of the monarch butterfly. I hounded Teresa and her husband John into joining AdkAction.org, a non-profit for which I volunteer, and soon after Theresa jumped with enthusiasm to help with the organization’s project to conserve Monarchs and the milkweed so crucial to their lifecycle.
For twenty years Monarch numbers have been declining steeply. Last year no monarch butterflies were reported in the Adirondacks, and none were sighted in the annual butterfly count at Lake Placid. This year Monarchs have shown signs of a comeback in the North Country and elsewhere, but they have a tough period ahead if they are to continue their age-old flight back and forth to Mexico where they winter.
Theresa collected milkweed seed pods last fall and tediously separted thousands of the tiny seeds from their fairy-wing fluff, planted the seeds in her yard, and gave seedlings and thousands of seeds to AdkAction.org to distribute. She and John dropped off Monarch educational brochures with seed packets to faraway places in the park. (There was great demand in Wanakena.)
Recently Theresa sent me the photos which accompany this article, showing monarch caterpillars chomping on milkweed in her yard on September 1. If these caterpillars survive to become butterflies they will be members of a special generation. This final, late-summer cohort was once called the Methuselah generation. Scientists have since abandoned that vivid term for the blander but more politically correct moniker ”migratory generation” or “super generation.” Perhaps they made the change because so few folks these days know enough Bible stories to recognize Methuselah as the reputed oldest man. But whatever the name, this years last generation of monarchs in the northern U.S. and southern Canada, for reasons still unknown to scientists, will have an extended lifespan of nine months or more, while all the earlier generations only live about three weeks.
Hopefully the caterpillars in Teresa’s backyard will make their way to a high mountain range west of Mexico City, survive the winter, and return to the U.S. next spring to begin the migratory cycle once again. Wrap your mind around this: If one of the pictured butterflies is a female who makes it to Mexico and then back to Texas next March or April, she will have the capacity to lay up to 300 eggs, as will each of her daughters and granddaughters and on and on as they migrate northward following the emerging milkweed plants. That is thousands and thousands of monarchs, in what I like to think of as Theresa’s line.
Such is the power of one person. If monarchs are to make it though, they will needs thousands more friends like Theresa. This is especially true in the Midwest, where herbicides sprayed on GMO crops have virtually wiped out the milkweed. You can use the internet to inspire all those new Theresas. Email this article to everyone you know in the crucial states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and the entire Midwest. The power of one, a million times over. A million and one times over if you plant some milkweed too.
Photo: Theresa Mitrowitz photographed these two Monarch caterpillars on milkweed which she planted from seed she gathered last fall from dried milkweed pods.