In all its stages—from caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly—the Monarch is a splendidly beautiful creature. Mother Nature had tricks up her sleeve when she created a miniscule ivory-colored egg, that transforms into 1) a spunky black, yellow, and white striped caterpillar, that transforms into 2) a gold-dotted (not real gold but sure is hard to tell the difference!) creamy jade chrysalis, then, finally, like magic, to 3) an orange and black winged beauty with regal white spots and dashes. Observing this process is indeed like watching a magic act. Say goodnight to the big fat caterpillar and the next day—POOF!—a chrysalis hangs instead. About two weeks later—POOF!—the chrysalis is empty and a butterfly is getting its wings ready to fly away. It’s all, well, amazing. The fascinating story of the Monarch—where it lays its eggs (ONLY MILKWEED!!!), what the caterpillar eats (ONLY MILKWEED!!!), what it sips as a butterfly (the nectar of MILKWEED flowers and other nectar-producing plants), where it migrates to overwinter (over 2,000 miles from HERE, exclusively to the Oyamel fir forests of Mexico), how it gets there (by traveling nearly 30 miles per day over the course of two+ months)—could fill a book. The story of the Monarch is just as much a thrilling page-turner as a Tom Clancy novel.
But this captivating insect is struggling to survive. In the past 20 years, the eastern Monarch population has decreased a staggering 90 PERCENT. The reasons why are numerous. Habitat destruction; the loss of milkweed plants between farm crop rows and elsewhere; the lack of nectar flowers; pesticide use by farmers, homeowners, and gardeners; and climate change are nudging the eastern Monarch toward unrecoverable levels. The good news is we can all help the Monarch population survive. Start by planting as much milkweed as you are moved to do (there are14 milkweeds native to Minnesota so you have many to choose from for both sunny and shady conditions). Avoid using insecticides. Plant robust (including regional native plants), nectar-producing plants. Make sure you are planting pesticide-free plants so that you are offering “clean” food to all wildlife. Do this and you will be a part of helping one of the greatest natural magic acts on earth continue to entertain generations to come.
Oh yes, and about art. My exhibit in the Northrup King Building (until May, 2017) will feature the “State Icon Series”–a collection of work that interprets our state icons (the Monarch is the state butterfly). Come and learn more about the Loon, Red Pine, Ladies’ Slipper, and more. Hopefully, you will leave a bit more inspired to help save our state’s birds, insects, trees, and even our rocks!