“I raised 300.” (unnamed, 2018)
“I belong to a Facebook group in Wisconsin that has raised and released over 16,000 Monarchs this season.” (unnamed, 2018)
“I hope to reach 1,000 next year.” (unnamed, 2018)
What is going on? These are statements of citizens in the U.S. and Canada who have raised monarch butterflies this summer into fall. As a person who has done this for the last 15 years in modest amounts, I think their statements are crazy! This is an example of the bandwagon effect at its worse in my opinion!
The linked article cites that the monarch butterfly population might be having one of the highest population counts that it’s had in 25 years.
This information comes at the same time as Monarch Joint Venture and the Xerces Society released statements on why or why not one should consider raising monarchs. The reasons to raise them are few and the numbers should reflect very small operations for the purposes of education and/or citizen science, not rearing them in the hundreds or thousands, just to say you did it and are “helping” the population by doing so. This sort of “help” came under fire this week with statements from eminent authorities on the monarch species mentioned and linked above in this paragraph. And, sadly, I have to agree. This is clearly not conservation, it’s craziness!
I thought long enough about this issue the other night to have it disturb my sleep. As an environmental educator and self-taught monarch conservationist, I loved the practice rearing monarchs over the last 15 years. It is something that has brought me great joy. Admittedly, this year will be my largest population ever raised with over 50 releases from our yard and over 25 of those fifty being tagged in the last two weeks. I’ve reported monarch sightings to Journey North since 2006. Milkweed seeds were collected under my supervision with students in 2014 and sent them to Monarch Watch for their further disbursement to other areas of the country that needed them. Also, key to my own role in conservation has been informing others how to build habitat and plant milkweed. I’ve even given away native milkweed seeds to help those wanting to have habitat succeed in doing so. And, planted milkweed on the grounds of two different schools with the students. Clearly, I’ve been in this for the long haul. Admittedly, I have also taught a few families of close friends with small children how to raise monarchs. I know they are using the knowledge as an educational tool and consequently raising the monarchs in very small quantities.
Last night I spoke to 30 Lions Club members about Monarchs, Milkweed and the Monarch Highway! They listened attentively. My take home message was this: if you want to help monarchs, plant milkweed. Helping is not rearing hundreds or thousands of these iconic creatures to the extent that data collection from tagging will become flawed, diseases will be spread, and natural selection will be toyed with. The conservation message is one of habitat creation and restoration, not raising monarchs to be able to outnumber the next post on social media.
As much as I’ve enjoyed raising monarchs, and plan to continue to do so, I do agree that the mass raising and releasing needs to stop. I have to recognize the fact that in my own experience of raising more monarchs this year (because they were plentiful in my own yard’s habitat), I’ve experienced an increase in disease and their demise during the process. I lost more caterpillars or pupas this year than ever before. Why? I’m not so sure. My rearing techniques have stayed the same. And, the containers are cleaned daily with fresh milkweed provided after the cleanings. But, I also know that since I raised more, there is more potential for problems. Density increases as they are removed from their natural community. In nature, chrysalises are not all hanging next to one another the way they are in a container. In a garden, they are hidden, and separated so much so that you can barely find them. I also know that I raised monarchs for the first 12 years without ever having a death. This narrative has to tell me (and, you) something.
Other comments, from a newly joined list-serve on monarchs have also come to my attention this week. We cannot trust everyone doing this to follow directions. They are just not reading, being thorough, or being observant…..it is a rush to numbers, to raise and release the most. For example, one person submitted a comment on the fact she has been using tags she order several years ago on monarchs she raised over the last few years! What?! The directions from monarch watch clearly state to use the tags you order on the butterflies only during the autumn in which they were received. What she has done has the potential to confuse the tagging data we provide Monarch Watch to help the scientists decide what is going on with the migratory population of this species. Another person, is sharing her tags with a person in another state! This is also not an acceptable practice, as stated in the tagging directions.
I have been dismayed at the bandwagon effect that has been created over trying to help the monarch butterfly. Monarch Joint Venture reminds us that Monarch Conservation is about providing habitat, planting milkweed, acting as a responsible citizen scientist, and sharing what you know with others. It is not mass producing species to the extent it might change the course of its natural life course.
The very nature of the word conserve, precludes the production in home butterfly factory mills. Conserve means to save…..not produce. Let’s work to conserve the Monarch. I am not being hypocritical. You can be sure this will alter what I do, even on the small-scale that I am doing it.
But, PLEASE, I beg you, if you are mass producing monarchs in large quantities, just STOP! Think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Find something else to brag about on social media. For the Monarch, this is a life and death situation.