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New Ulm residents saving the Monarchs one butterfly at a time

The Monarch butterfly is in grave danger. In recent years, fewer and fewer butterflies have been returning from the challenging annual migration from North America to Mexico. The cause of the decline includes agro-industrial chemicals, illegal logging and weather changes. These New Ulm residents are doing what they can to give the winged beauties a better chance for survival.

Photo by Deb Steinberg Monarch caterpillars cling to milkweed.

There’s been a lot of bad news for monarch butterflies in recent years. Their numbers have been dropping in recent years, due to a lot of factors, including the loss of habitat, including their favorite food, the milkweed plant.

The good news is, there are things people can do to help rebuild the fragile monarch butterfly population.

New Ulm residents age six to 87 are saving the Monarch butterfly one at a time.

“We can help the monarch by planting milkweed and pollinator plants like zinnias, coneflowers, bee balm and meadow blazing star,” said Deb Steinberg, a retired lab coordinator at Kraft Foods, New Ulm Public Schools paraprofessional and flower and pollinator park enthusiast.

Some of the other local monarch enthusiasts include Ariana and Mariah Dreyer, Layla and Samantha Holm Kump and Jyneal McCrea. Other people’s contributions are noteworthy too.

Monarch caterpillars spin a chrysalis where they complete their transformation into butterflies.

“People find milkweed in their yard and save it for us,” McCrea said. “Rabbits eat milkweed. I’ve live-trapped them and released them near the (Minnesota) River.”

The Dreyers and Layla Kump brought milkweed and chrysalis stage monarch rearing cages to Lindstrom’s house recently.

“My first monarch butterfly of 2020 eclosed (emerged from a transluscent chrysalis). It was a girl,” Steinberg said.

Lafayette Charter School student Isabella Williams of New Ulm has become particularly interested in growing milkweed, raising Monarch butterflies, collecting their eggs, raising caterpillars into chrysalis stage rearing cages and educating her fellow students and friends about the process.

“She became interested in butterflies in kindergarten. Three years ago, Isabella said she wanted to raise Monarchs,” said Isabella’s mother Stacey Williams. “We built a garden for it and raised milkweed, collected eggs and raised caterpillars. She was so fascinated with it, she would ask me every year when she could take things to school and talk about it. I just let her run with it. Williams said her daughter couldn’t go to class with her hobby this year due to COVID-19, so she documented it now to present at school next year.

Staff photo by Fritz Busch The miracle of birth. Mariah Dreyer holds a Monarch butterfly after it emerged from its transluscent chrysalis.

Stacey Williams said the book “How to Raise Monarch Butterflies” by Carol Pasternak was very helpful.

The Williamses said they have enjoyed visiting the Butterfly House & Aquarium in Sioux Falls, S.D. that features more than 800 butterflies from around the world in a 3,600 square foot insectarium.

Isabella Williams listed rules for people to keep her caterpillars safe:

• Wash hands before touching them.

• Ask her before doing anything with them.

Photo by Deb Steinberg A monarch clings to a colorful gazania flower.

• Don’t blow on them, shake the cage or make loud noises.

• Wash every milkweed you give caterpillars.

• Don’t do anything with shedding caterpillars.

There are 8 ways you can help save the monarch butterfly, according to Greenpeace USA:

• Don’t use pesticides in your garden. Many pesticides contain glyphosate, an herbicide that kills milkweed, which is the only plant monarch larvae eat and the only plant a monarch will lay its eggs in. Without milkweed, monarchs will cease to exist.

Photo by Stacey Williams Isabella Williams stands next to her pollinator garden.

• Avoid genetically-engineered (GE) foods. Roundup Ready GE seeds are resistant to glyphosate, so farmers spray more and more of it to get rid of weeds. The excess glyphosate increases the amount of milkweed killed.

• Plant native milkweed. It is important to plant milkweed native to your area to promote biodiversity and enable the natural migration pattern of monarch butterflies.

• Create a monarch way station — habitats that allow monarchs to lay their eggs.

• Help stop climate change. Monarch butterfly migration is spurred by seasonal temperature changes, but changes in the weather cycle confuse the butterfly and disrupt the entire flight cycle. With colder winters and drier summers, not only is the migration at risk, but the life of the butterfly could be threatened by changes in habitat and milkweed availability.

• Use FSC-certified wood to ensure monarchs have a place to return. Many Monarch butterflies rely on forests in Mexico as a winter habitat. Illegal logging reduces the acres of trees left to butterflies.

• Organizations including Save Our Monarchs and Monarch Watch are dedicated to researching and communicating the plight of the Monarch butterfly.

• Educate others about the monarch decline and encourage them to take steps to protect the delicate species.

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