The Pollinating Practices of Monarch Butterflies

When it comes to pollinators, bees get a lot of the attention. They’re certainly important, with certain crops relying almost exclusively on bee pollination. But with issues such as colony collapse disorder affecting the world’s bee population, some experts are pushing for a greater emphasis on pollinator diversity. 

After all, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, and even some lizards all contribute to pollination. 

This month, we’d like to highlight an important and well-recognized pollinator: the monarch butterfly.  

Monarch butterflies contribute heavily to pollination as they feed from the nectar of numerous flowers. They travel great distances, allowing them to pollinate larger areas than bees.  

But just like other pollinators, monarch butterflies have experienced a major decline in the past few decades. In order to reverse this, it’s important to understand their life cycle. 

The Life Cycle of Monarch Butterflies 

Most people know the basic lifecycle of a butterfly. There are four stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and finally, adult butterfly. But there’s another cycle that monarch butterflies go through every year. 

Each year, four generations of monarch butterflies are born.  

It starts around February and March as butterflies from the previous year come out of hibernation, looking for a mate. They’ll lay eggs in March and April. These eggs will become the first generation of butterflies for the year. 

Butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars (or larvae) eat the milkweed plant for nourishment. This provides them with an important defense mechanism as well. Milkweed contains a toxin that makes the caterpillars poisonous to predators. The toxin remains present in their system through adulthood, providing lifelong protection. 

Once the caterpillars have reached full growth, they’ll form a cocoon where they can turn into a monarch butterfly. The first generation of butterflies will lay their eggs around May and June, creating the second generation. The third generation is then born around July and August. 

These first three generations will only live around two to five weeks after they emerge from their cocoons. The fourth generation, however, is special. 

These butterflies, which are born around September and October, won’t lay eggs right away. Instead, they migrate to warm climates like Mexico and California. As the winter passes, they return home, laying the eggs of the next generation of butterfly. 

From there, the cycle repeats. 

Providing Habitat for Monarch Butterfly 

In order for monarch butterflies to thrive and continue their cycle of pollination, they need proper habitat. Monarch butterflies not only need flowers to feed off of, but they need milkweed on which to lay their eggs. Though many gardeners have begun to plant milkweed to help the monarch butterfly, it’s not enough. 

Through initiatives such as CRP, farmers and landowners can be paid to take low performing or highly erodible land out of production and establish pollinator habitat for monarch butterflies, bees, and more. The process of doing so, however, can be complicated. 

Specific CRP seed must be purchased, special equipment must be used, and everything must be properly documented in order to receive cost-share reimbursement. Even experienced farmers can find themselves frustrated and confused. 

That’s why we offer a full-service solution. At FDCE, we handle the entire establishment process from start to finish, including documenting and submitting all of the necessary paperwork to FSA. 

We can even help you determine what CRP practice is best suited for your needs. Contact FDCE today!