Co-written by Jennifer Dawson and Rebecca Chandler
The beauty and grace of butterflies has been recognized for millenia. Recent studies have found that butterflies have been around for up to 200 million years. As such, there’s little surprise that the winged creatures have an abundance of cultural significance attached to them in cultures across the world.
Native American Culture
Butterflies play a variety of roles in many Native American folktales and traditions. Monarch butterflies are painted on Hopi Kachina dolls which are given as gifts in hope of future abundance and health, as well as tools for education. The Butterfly Dance is a traditional social dance of the Hopi and is a petition for rain, good health, and long life for all living things. Blackfoot people associate butterflies with sleep and dreaming. They would sometimes decorate cradles to help babies sleep or embroider a butterfly on a small piece of buckskin and tie it in the baby’s hair for a restful night of sleep. Butterflies also play a part in Tohono O'odham creation stories.
Symbolism in Christianity
Butterflies are seen as a symbol of foretelling and spiritual transformation in Christianity. In Catholicism, they are a symbol of rebirth, a strong theme throughout many religious texts. The Angel Numbers Spiritual theory which suggests that symbols and numbers are signs sent from divine beings to help you navigate through life, harness this as a foretelling sign. According to some sources, a Monarch butterfly in particular is a sign that you are on the right path to achieve your goals.
Día de Muertos
Mexico has a very special relationship with Monarch butterflies. Millions of butterflies take flight to central Mexico as part of their yearly migration and arrive during Day of the Dead (October 31-November 2). While modern science suggests that the creatures are following some form of magnetism in the Earth’s atmosphere, Mexican folklore tells us these butterflies are actually the souls of the deceased, visiting the Earth on these holy days to visit relatives and provide comfort. During the 3-day celebration of Dia de los Muertos, many people will dress like monarch butterflies and decorate their ofrendas (altars) with Monarchs in order to honor and remember their ancestors.
The Monarch butterfly is not only a creature of wonderment in modern times. It is an ancient creature that has been lauded by cultures across history. Protecting them is an absolute must to ensure that generations to come are able to enjoy their beauty as well.
"Are our yards becoming a source or a sink for butterflies?"
Monarchs migrate to warmer climates in the winter but have you ever wondered what other species of butterflies do?
There are many species of butterflies and moths that endure the winter in their native range. Did you know that the luna moth, wooly bear, fritillary and red-banded hairstreak all overwinter in fall leaves? In fact, many of these butterflies and moths are disguised as dry leaves inside their chrysalides and cocoons.
According to a study by NASA, "turf grasses, occupying about 2% of the surface of the continental U.S., are the single largest irrigated crop in the country." This study concludes that lawns can act as a carbon sequestering system. However, the hidden cost of using Nitrogen fertilizers, water and lawn mowers offsets any positive environmental benefits of maintaining a lawn.
On the positive side, this insight provides gardeners and homeowners a huge opportunity to support wildlife in their own backyard!
List of Butterflies that Overwinter in Fall Leaves
You can have your lawn and insect habitat too!
You can designate an area of your yard to perennial forbs and grasses which will provide great cover for bugs in the winter while still having a great-looking lawn.
In addition, you don't have to leave your entire yard messy in order to provide a lovely insect habitat. Leaving a pile of sticks or plant material here and there can make a world of difference! These piles can also act as mulch around your trees, shrubs, and perennial plants. The best part about it? Leaves act as free mulch and compost!
Reduce your perennial pruning by a few inches
Many nurseries suggest cutting your perennials back to "basal growth" which means that you will leave only a few inches of above-ground growth. However, you can provide more protection for bugs by leaving 6-8 inches of growth.
Build a bug sanctuary that supports wildlife
If you are planning to build a bee hotel, insect abode, or butterfly barn (the list goes on), it can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Simply drilling holes in a log or bundling bamboo behind a mesh screen will do! The idea behind these structures is that it will provide protection from the elements and predators throughout the winter. In the wild, insects will seek out little cracks, holes and crevices to lay their eggs and nestle into for the winter.
For plenty of inspiration for bee and butterfly housing click here.
Check your firewood for chrysalides and cocoons before burning
Several moths and caterpillars will overwinter underneath the bark of logs. If you see a cocoon, leave it be!
Plant perennials that bloom in the spring and fall
When butterflies emerge from their chrysalides in early spring, they are hungry for nectar sources. The same goes for butterflies that overwinter in their northern range and need fall nectar sources.
Spread the word to your neighbors and fellow gardners!
Placing signs in your yard such as the one above will notify passersby that you are supporting the pollinators. A well-kept lawn can be a thing of beauty and has represented a status symbol throughout the years. However, more and more people are converting their lawns to gardens and wildlife habitats.
The Xerces society has come up with a wonderful campaign called #LeavetheLeaves in which you can share with your friends on social media.
Sources and Additional Reading
How to Create an Insect Habitat in Your Garden. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/creating-insect-habitat-ripley-garden-180961898/
Leaves the Leaves. https://xerces.org/blog/leave-the-leaves
Milesi, C., Elvidge, C. D., Dietz, J. B., Tuttle, B. T., Nemani, R. R., & Running, S. W. (2005). A strategy for mapping and modeling the ecological effects of US lawns. J. Turfgrass Manage, 1(1), 83-97.
Summers, Carolyn. Designing Gardens with Flora of the American. East Paperback. March 4, 2010.
90+ Free Bee and Insect Housing Images. https://pixabay.com/images/search/bee%20house/
Minneapolis, MN — October 15, 2019 — The Save Our Monarchs Foundation is devoted to saving the monarch butterfly from extinction by promoting the planting of milkweed across the US.
The good news is that in 2018-2019 the migration from Mexico to the US was up 140% over the previous year, the first time since 1992 that there has been an increase.
We would like to offer our sincere gratitude to everyone across North America who has rallied to this cause, planting their own pollinator gardens and especially the thousands of participants in Save Our Monarchs who had a direct hand in the repopulating of the monarch.
In five years, Save Our Monarchs has distributed over 100 MILLION milkweed seeds, which contributed significantly to the recent increase in the monarch population.
Monarch butterflies can only survive by eating the leaves of the milkweed plant. The population of these plants is down by over 90% since 1992. In that same period of time, the monarch butterfly has also declined by 92% according to experts.
Further, since the early nineties, monarch colonies overwintering in Mexico occupied about 52 acres. By the winter of 2017, monarchs only occupied 1.6 acres, due to the loss of habitat stemming from land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they live.
Much more info is available at the
Save Our Monarchs website
Contact SaveOurMonarch's director, Ward Johnson at:
Ward@SaveOurMonarchs.org or 612-356-4527
Please note that all of Save Our Monarchs activities are possible only through donations from people like you.
So please help support our efforts by donating online or by mail:
PO Box 390135
Minneapolis, MN 55439.
We thank you and the Monarchs thank you as well!
With 90% of American homeowners planning to remodel their house, it’s clear that home renovation is a popular approach to increasing space and property value. However, many of us don’t realize the repercussions that construction work can have on the surrounding environment and wildlife. It can sometimes result in damage to both animals and their habitats. If you’re planning a home renovation, there are ways you can help preserve the monarch butterfly and other wildlife while doing so.
By Jennifer Dawson
When planning a renovation, it’s necessary to keep in mind that the location of your house can have a profound effect on how you do so. For example, if you live in an area that sees a lot of wildlife - specifically endangered species like monarchs - it’s important to take extra care. One way to do so is by surveying the area before you begin. By identifying and marking any trees or plants that wildlife rely on, you can ensure that they won’t get touched during the renovation process. For the monarch butterfly, this includes milkweed and flowering plants/trees.
Proper Disposal of Harmful Substances
When renovating your home, paint or other artificial substances will most likely be involved. It’s important to ensure that none of it gets spilled on the ground, as this can be harmful to any wildlife that crosses its path. For example, if an animal comes into contact with spilled paint, they can potentially ingest it, which can cause injury or death. In the case of the butterfly, their wings could become damaged or they could become stuck. So, store your leftover paint for next time or dispose of it at a recycling center.
Home renovations aren’t just about painting and remodeling, and many renovation projects begin because of the need to remove mold that is causing damage to structures like wood and drywall. Due to its ability to also cause respiratory issues in humans and animals, it’s necessary to take the proper measures to ensure that it’s disposed of the right way, and not in your backyard. Because of its toxic nature, having a professional remove mold infected materials and disposing of them safely is necessary to ensure a mold-free environment for both you and the local wildlife.
Mind the Milkweed
Home renovation and landscaping go hand in hand. If your flower beds or yard contain milkweed, you should make a plan to carefully replant it, as it’s necessary for monarchs to thrive. Integrating the planting of more milkweed that is native to your area can also help the species flourish, and making it part of a butterfly garden can add a nice touch to any landscape renovation.
Renovating your home can be a gratifying experience, but if you live near wildlife, preservation of habitats and species should be your top priority. By minding your location and removing harmful substances properly, you’ll be able to have a butterfly-friendly renovation.
Article by Jennifer Dawnson
The monarch butterfly population has declined nearly 80 percent in the last two decades. At this rate, the chance is uncomfortably high that monarchs will be extinct by 2038. Thankfully, there are ongoing efforts to save the butterfly, some of which consist of promoting monarch migration destinations to increase public interest. This leads people to camp in monarch country for the purpose of viewing these increasingly rare and stunningly beautiful butterflies. While enthusiasm for monarchs, and camping in general, is not a bad thing, disturbing the butterflies is. When sharing your space with a sensitive species, it’s important to practice conscientious camping, which is easy if you consider the following points.
Choose a Proper Site
All monarch butterflies migrate to the same locations every year, which means that these few places will be visited by millions of monarchs all at once. Southern California is one destination for the overwintering monarchs, as are certain sites in Arizona, Florida, and Mexico. For the chance to see this famous butterfly in a gargantuan kaleidoscope, many people journey to these locations for hikes, guided tours, and camping trips. One can camp among monarchs, but delicately – and not on preserved land. When choosing a campsite, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid making camp near roosting monarchs or in the middle of an active migratory route. The farther you camp from monarch butterflies, the better.
Bring Lightweight Gear
Camping with monarchs does not necessitate a heavy load. Campers should demand as little space as possible. A compact, lightweight tent is necessary fare in monarch country. If possible, the tent should be erected on designated camping ground. It should also be at least 160 feet from any trees containing the butterflies. When traveling around the site, wear light shoes and keep the noise to a minimum. Stick to paths and retain all garbage for later disposal away from the monarchs. Almost as important as not disturbing the butterflies themselves is to not disturb any plants in the area. These plants are the butterflies' shelter and sustenance.
Observe and (If Necessary) Report
While observing the butterflies from a respectful distance, be on the lookout for fellow monarch enthusiasts who are less conscientious. Anyone harming the monarchs or their habitat should be reported. Any logging operations that occur in or near migration sites should be reported as well. Illegal logging, particularly in the Michoacán region of Mexico, has played a big role in the species’ decline.
Since monarchs are teetering on the edge of extinction, a maimed migration site could be the final push. For people who wish to spend a night or two enmeshed in their natural beauty, it is crucial to be conscientious while camping so the butterflies are not harmed or at risk.
If you have any addition questions about seeing or camping with Monarchs, please submit your questions below.
Common plant names can be confusing, especially when you have Pokeweed and Poke Milkweed which look and sound alike but are not in the same plant family and serve very different uses.
Fruits of Pokeweed
Flowers of Poke Milkweed
Poke Milkweed has downward facing petals and the inflorescence (flower head) is more round rather than tubular.
Milkweed Fruits or Pods
Milkweeds do not have berries like Pokeweed but large pods that contain seeds.
CAUTION: The berries of Pokeweed are extremely toxic and some people develop skin irritation just from touching the berries. Always use gloves when handling. These berries also provide a food source for songbirds who have immunity to the toxin.
Yellow aphids can appear in large colonies and are often a terrifying sight as they devour milkweed plants. They are a non-native insect and they can multiply very quickly. However, they are not a direct threat to monarch caterpillars because they feed on the milkweed plant only. They can indirectly affect caterpillar health by depleting nutrients in their only host plant.
Remember, the key to a healthy habitat is a high diversity of insects and plants. We do not recommend using insecticides because they will kill much more than the aphids and most likely your monarch larvae as well. Therefore, we will recommend the safest methods to eliminating aphids while keeping Monarchs and other beneficial insects in your habitat.
What are oleander aphids?
The Oleander aphid is a bright yellow insect with black legs, and stalks known as cornicles on the back of the abdomen.
Method One: Manual Removal
It is best to catch the aphids before they become an aphid army, so even if there are just a few on the plant, remove immediately.
Method Two: "Contact Only"
• 1 part (e.g. 1 oz) Blue Dawn
• 1 part Isopropyl Alcohol
• 1 part white vinegar
• 128 parts (e.g. 1 gal) water
"Contact only" means that the insects have to have the mixture applied directly to their body for it to work.
*Use caution with this method because it will also kill monarch larvae if they come in contact with the solution. Rinse the plant when finished so you do not injure monarch larvae and other beneficial insects.
Natural History of Orange County and nearby places.
Gardens, lawns, fields, roadsides, right-of-ways all provide vital habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. How we manage this habitat must be done with care to help protect our monarchs!
Mowing too frequently or when it is poorly timed can be detrimental to the monarch population. However, according to a recent article in the Global Ecology and Conservation, strategic mowing can be beneficial to monarch populations when it produces young milkweed plants at the right time.
The key to understanding when to mow is knowing when the monarchs are present in your area so you can better time your land management practices. For instance, if mowing occurs when there are monarch eggs, larvae or adults present on the milkweed, this will have a negative impact on monarch populations. This also applies to other land management practices such as controlled burns, targeted pesticide application and grazing.
The following recommendations will help you to time your land management practices so that the least amount of harm is done to our monarch populations.
For more information, read Mowing and Management: Best Practices for Monarchs by Monarch Joint Venture.
When are monarchs present in my area?
Remember that this will vary each year.
In addition, you can conduct your own survey by checking your milkweed patch/field daily.
Once you understand where the monarchs are and when they will be visiting your habitat, you can create a strategic mowing plan.
Limit the frequency of your mowing
Leave a pollinator refuge area
Avoid mowing milkweed and blooming flowers
Increase your cutting height
Habitat Enhancement and Best Management Practices in Highway Rights-of-Way.” Prepared by The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in collaboration with ICF International. 68 pp. Washington, D.C.: Federal Highway Administration.
Journey North. journeynorth.org/monarchs
Knight, S. M., Norris, D. R., Derbyshire, R., & Flockhart, D. T. (2019). Strategic mowing of roadside milkweeds increases monarch butterfly oviposition. Global Ecology and Conservation, 19, e00678.
Monarch Joint Venture. Mowing and Management: Best Practices for Monarchs.
Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper. https://www.monarchmilkweedmapper.org/
Butterflies can be found sipping moisture from puddles or wet soil after a rain (known as "puddling"). Not only are they being hydrated but they also pick up salts in the process.
Water’s Role In Survival
The Shallower The Better
Other Ways To Boost The Butterflies
It’s win-win: by placing a water feature in your butterfly garden, both you and the monarch butterfly population will benefit. You hear the tranquil sound of running water while your butterflies receive their essential minerals.
Host plants are the vital food source that caterpillars live on. Adult butterflies will seek out these plants to lay their eggs on because they know that the caterpillar cannot travel far and will not survive if placed on a plant that they cannot eat.
The key to a successful butterfly garden is to plant both nectar and host plants so that the butterflies will have a food source in all stages of their life cycles. Nectar plants are simply plants that produce nectar as a reproductive strategy. Almost all flowering plants produce nectar and many host plants double as a nectar sources.
Why plant native?
The evolutionary relationship between butterflies and host plants is the main reason for planting native plants in your garden. As a defense mechanism, plants have evolved to produce chemical alkaloids, also known as secondary metabolites, in order to deter herbivory (wildlife feeding on plants). In response, each butterfly species has evolved to be resistant to the toxins of just a small number of plants so their caterpillars have something to feed on.
Few native butterfly species use exotic or non-native plants as their hosts because they haven't created an evolutionary relationship with them. When we plant non-native glasses and exotic ornamentals such as Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), we often remove the vital food sources for caterpillars and this leads to decreased populations. Ironically, butterfly bush does not serve as a host plant for any native species of caterpillars. To find out which plants are native to your area visit the Native Plants Database.
Be prepared for your plants to be eaten.
It is important to remember that the leaves of these plants will get eaten but that is the whole point! For this reason, it might be a good idea to plant them in less visible areas.
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Hollyhock (Alcea spp.)
Dill (Antheum graveolens)
NOTE: The Black Swallowtail will feed on any plants within the Parsley family.
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)
Mallow (Malva spp.)
Violet (Viola spp.)
Tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1St Edition edition (August 14, 2005)
Butterflies and Moths of North America
Native Plant Database
Penn State Extension Office
Garden Educator, Naturalist and Ethnobotanist