Earth Month 2015

Speaker and Researcher Shares Simple Steps to Help Save the Monarch Butterfly along the Gulf Coast   
Researcher and Ph.D. Candidate Dara Satterfield was on the Monarch campus in October, conducting research on the Monarch butterfly for her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, School of Ecology as part of the Monarch Health research project. While on campus Dara showed science class students in the Butterfly program at The Monarch School, how to safety capture, measure, sample for parasites, tag and release Monarch butterflies. 


To kickoff April's Earth Month Dara returned to The Monarch School as a special guest speaker to share her research with students, parents and members of our community. Dara is studying monarch butterflies and infectious disease ecology. One of the research sites along the Gulf coast Satterfield has visited includes The Monarch School. The Monarch campus hosts a Monarch Waystation, one of its many environmental programs on campus. The Monarch Waystation is a certified and registered site that provides milkweeds, nectar sources and shelter needed to sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America.

Dara research showed that when tropical milkweed grows year-round, it can greatly increase the prevalence of disease among monarchs because parasites build up in the population when there is no break in the transmission cycle, as there would be during the normal migration. So all things considered, tropical milkweed can be helpful to sick monarchs when it grows seasonally, but leads to more sickness in monarchs when it grows year-round.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly is so severe that Federal Government recently launched a $3.2 million campaign aimed at saving the declining numbers of the Monarch butterfly. The campaign aims to engage Americans everywhere, from schools and community groups to corporations and governments, in protecting and restoring habitat.   

Satterfield’s research suggests there are things we can do in our community now, that can help replenish the Monarch Butterfly population and help prevent disease in migrating Monarchs.

"Our research did not show that anyone is murdering monarchs, that planting milkweed is "bad," or that tropical milkweed is responsible for the monarch decline (definitely not). And this certainly does not mean gardeners and monarch conservationists are at fault. The problem of year-round breeding and high disease levels in monarchs arose because of lack of scientific knowledge (which we now have), and the limited supply of native milkweeds available for purchase," said Dara Satterfield.

Dara's research included simple yet important steps we can all take to help replenish the Monarch Butterfly population and help prevent disease in migrating Monarchs.

1) Plant milkweed for monarchs and keep it seasonal (not year-round) to reduce monarch disease. Plant native milkweed, which naturally die back in the winter. Cut tropical milkweed back to 6" monthly between October and February.

2) Build butterfly habitat in your own backyard by planting milkweeds and native nectar flowers. Texas native milkweeds include Antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula), Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Zizotes milkweed (Asclepias oenotheroides), and Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis). Native nectar flowers include Salvias, Gregg's mistflower, Purple coneflower,   Hummingbird bush (flame acanthus), Coral honeysuckle and Texas lantana. Plant flowers in large, bright clumps, use diverse plants, provide a shallow water dish, don't use pesticides and herbicides, keep it messy and plant mostly native plants.
3) Support efforts in your community that are helping to rebuild the Monarch butterfly population. Supporting local and organic agriculture. Serve as a citizen scientist: a volunteer who conducts scientific research.


Click here for a recent NY Times article featuring Dara's research.

Monarch Student In the Community: 

Monarch Student In the Community: