Helping to save the monarch butterfly


By Chet Murphy - Fayette SWCD Director



Milkweed bug adults and juveniles.

Milkweed bug adults and juveniles.


Fayette Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) will once again serve as a drop-off location for anyone who wishes to harvest milkweed seed pods and assist with the statewide effort to re-establish milkweed plant populations.

The iconic monarch butterfly is vanishing from backyards throughout Ohio and the country. One way to ensure future generations of monarch butterflies continue to visit flower gardens throughout the state is by protecting native milkweed plants, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Every year in the fall, monarch butterflies across the eastern U.S. and Canada begin a 3,000-mile-long journey down to wintering grounds in Mexico. In the spring, these same butterflies head back north, and delight us with their presence once again. However, this amazing journey would not be possible without milkweed, a group of plants critical to the survival of the monarch butterfly. As butterflies, monarchs can feed on the nectar of a number of different flowering plants, but as caterpillars, monarchs are entirely dependent on the availability of milkweed.

Monarch caterpillars hatch from eggs laid on milkweed plants and feed on the leaves of the plant as they grow. If these plants are mowed, removed or sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, the caterpillars will not survive. Protecting these plants, especially during the egg-laying period from July through September, helps both monarch butterflies and caterpillars continue their life cycle and ultimately results in more monarch butterflies that can complete their journey to Mexico and back.

In the past, milkweed was viewed as a toxic weed. Today, we know that milkweed is a very important group of native plants, which helps support many species of wildlife, including monarch butterflies. People can learn more about ways to help ensure these beautiful butterflies are around for generations to come by visiting the Monarch Joint Venture at: monarchjointventure.org.

The milkweed seed pod collection event is scheduled to run from Sept. 1 – Oct. 31. Make sure that before you collect seed, you become familiar with the common milkweed to avoid harvesting pods from similar plants such as hemp dogbane and swamp milkweed. Only mature pods with viable seeds should be collected. Most pods will turn a gray or brown color and have a dry, rough feel when ready to be harvested. Some pods may remain a light, faded green color, but will readily split apart at the “seam” and contain brown seeds. These are also able to be collected. If the seeds inside the pod appear pale green or yellow, they are still developing and should not be picked.

Do not collect open pods with numerous milkweed bugs on the seeds or pods. Avoid introducing milkweed bugs into the bags in which you are placing pods. Milkweed bugs use their beak or rostrum to pierce and feed on milkweed seeds rendering them inviable. The damage is often difficult to see. After you have made your collection, spread out the pods and remove any milkweed bugs you find on the pods or seeds.

Pods should be placed into paper bags or cardboard boxes and be allowed to “breathe” in a dry, sheltered location until they can be delivered to the Fayette SWCD office at the Fayette Agricultural Center, 1415 US 22 SW, Washington Court House. Avoid the use of plastic bags or totes that may trap moisture and allow mold to develop. If you have questions regarding milkweed collection, please contact Marci Lininger at marci_lininger@fws.gov or Lori Stevenson at Lori_Stevenson@fws.gov.

Landowners who want to help by creating habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators are encouraged to contact an ODNR Division of Wildlife private lands biologist at their district office by calling 800-WILDLIFE or by visiting wildohio.gov.

Milkweed bug adults and juveniles.
https://www.recordherald.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/08/web1_milkweedbugs.jpgMilkweed bug adults and juveniles.

By Chet Murphy

Fayette SWCD Director