Community Forum: Protect, enjoy butterflies

To the Editor:

Last evening, I was thrilled to see several female monarch butterflies laying eggs on the milkweed plants in our summer campground on Mount Desert Island. For the last six summer seasons we have come to the great state of Maine and have worked in the tourism industry.

Monarchs have always held a special place in my heart. Prior to retiring, I was an elementary school teacher and principal. I raised monarchs in my classroom. These orange, black and white beauties are a fantastic example of the cycle of life and migratory insects.

The monarch has been in trouble in recent years. Over the past 20 years, monarch populations have plummeted due to loss of habitat, weather events, pesticides and climate change. Monarchs are one of the very few insects that migrate. The last hatchlings of the season here in the latter part of August and September can live up to eight months.

The migratory route is a long one. A Canadian monarch can migrate over 3,000 miles to the mountains of northern Mexico. Just imagine, this small insect with the brain that is half the size of the head of a pin has a built-in guidance system that urges it to make this tremendously long journey.

The biggest threat to monarch populations is loss of habitat. Milkweed is the only plant the monarch caterpillar will eat. There are more than 100 different species of milkweed with the common milkweed being the most prevalent variety.

Due to spraying of pesticides and the cutting down of milkweed plants which many consider an invasive, the monarch caterpillar has nothing to eat. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.

I have not heard of the outcome of the petition. I am encouraged by what I see on MDI. Large tracts of common milkweed have been allowed to grow in many areas, giving these beautiful butterflies a chance to survive. Our campground has several large flower beds which are full of milkweed.

The other day, I counted over 30 monarch caterpillars. I hope that this type of initiative will continue not only on MDI but throughout Maine so that future generations can spend a lovely summer afternoon watching the brilliant orange, black, and white monarch gently flutter by, sparking the wonder of nature for all to enjoy.

Diana Van Middlesworth


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