Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world's greatest natural wonders, yet it is threatened by habitat loss in North America - at the overwintering sites and throughout the spring and summer breeding range as well.
The Manalapan Environmental Commission recently led a project to plant a monarch butterfly garden at the Manalapan Recreation Center that will provide education to residents about the annual migration of monarch butterflies, why the monarch butterfly is endangered and how residents can help by planting a similar garden at home.
The garden is called a monarch way station, according to a press release from the township. This type of garden provides the resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their annual migration to Mexico.
Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants, which the caterpillars require as a food source. However, development has been consuming habitats at a rate of 6,000 acres per day in the United States, according to the press release. The remaining milkweed is not sufficient to sustain the large monarch populations seen in the 1990s.
"We hope residents who visit our garden will be inspired to plant milkweed and some of the other flowering plants in their own yard," said Jenine Tankoos, chairwoman of the environmental commission.
Environmental Commissioner Sue Schoenfeld, who is also an active member of the Monarch Teacher Network, said, "There will always be monarch butterflies, but loss of habitat due to development and the widespread use of herbicides instead of tilling to control weeds has caused the loss of more than 80 million acres of monarch habitat, and as a result the migration is endangered. Teachers all over the United States and Canada have been trained to plant gardens and raise monarchs every summer and fall to help increase the population. Citizens can help, too."
The environmental commission partnered with Viridian Energy, which donated the plants for the garden. Employees of the Manalapan Department of Public Works created a permanent educational sign for the garden that explains the role of the garden in creating habitat for monarchs.
The environmental commission filmed an educational program about monarch butterflies which will air later this summer on Cablevision channel 77 and Fios channel 42.
Information about monarch butterflies and how to build a monarch way station is available at www.monarchwatch.org.
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