OPINION: The last monarch butterfly?

By Steve Trumbo

I recently had the privilege to see a monarch butterfly in Cheshire’s Pollinator Pathway and wondered whether it might be the last one.

It is getting past time for monarchs to start the 2,500 mile journey south, relying on links in space and time to reach their winter retreat in Mexico. The odds are not good that the particular monarch I saw will make it safely, survive the winter and lay eggs next spring. So, why should we care about establishing gardens for monarchs?

If this monarch is fortunate, it will depart Mexico next March and head north, perhaps stopping to lay eggs on milkweed plants on the edge of a crop in south Texas, left intentionally by a farmer belonging to farmersformonarchs.org. Its offspring will continue the pattern of movement and egg-laying, but further north, possibly in a roadside garden sponsored by the town of Gallatin, Tennessee. Its grand offspring may do the same in Quiet Water Park in Maryland, using a garden sponsored by Pollinator Pathway, the same organization that maintains Cheshire’s garden.

Eventually, a descendant of the monarch I saw in Cheshire might be born in Cheshire late next summer, too late in the year to be laying eggs. Like its great-grandmother, it will instinctively turn toward Mexico, its generation’s task to make it all the way back by November.

It too will need help, stopping to re-fuel on nectar at one of the sites where an ancestor was born or at one of the hundreds of sites maintained by Bee City USA.

The monarchs seem to understand the strength of large numbers. Of the billions of monarchs in any one year, hundreds of millions will pack themselves each winter into an 80-acre mountainside forest in central Mexico.

Or once congregated in such numbers, before a 90% decline in the population. Trying to save the monarch, like most environmental challenges, is fruitless on our own. But with each farmer, town and knowledgeable backyard gardener that becomes involved, the odds improve of preserving this continental journey that has occurred for thousands of years.

Cheshire is doing its part, trusting in others along the monarch’s route, and trusting in our children and grandchildren to continue to do theirs, to complete our long journey of environmental responsibility.

You can learn more about Pollinator Pathway of Cheshire as well as about all the organizations that make up the Coalition for a Sustainable Cheshire at the Sustainability Fair on the First Church Green on Saturday, October 8.

Steve Trumbo is a Professor of Biology at UConn-Waterbury and a member of Pollinator Pathway.


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