Sex and the city and the Monarch butterfly

Who knew Monarch butterflies were so cosmopolitan? New research shows that these beleaguered critters prefer the comfort of a tamed urban garden than a wild meadow.

Brian Cutting and Douglas W. Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, recently wrote an article published online by Oxford University Press about where Monarch butterflies actually like to dine and start new families. You would’ve thought their favourite trysting spots would be in lovely, untouched swaths of wildflowers. But in a comparison study between residential gardens and natural areas, Cutting and Tallamy discovered that butterflies laid eggs “significantly” more frequently and laid way more eggs in the gardens than in the wild.

Some (well, more like 400) have even given up on natural nature all together and are happily enjoying the ultra-comfiness of Minneapolis-based Fiona Lennox’s home office. But that’s another story.

So your front or backyard (complete with oodles of non-native plants and lots of lawn) may be a potential Monarch crash pad. Their flight path runs from Mexico (where they spend the winter) to Southern Ontario (my home turf), Quebec and the Maritimes. If you’re on that path, plant some milkweed–that’s all Monarchs will eat–and help build up those Monarch numbers.

It’s not so far-fetched an idea. Gardeners like you and me can make a difference. In the StarTribune article on Ms. Lennox’s new Monarch B&B, Karen Oberhauser, a University of Minnesota conservation biologist and monarch expert, is quoted, saying “the work done by private citizens such as Lennox is boosting the butterfly population.”

And, now that we know for certain that these beautiful butterflies are city slickers at heart, why not roll out the welcome mat for them.

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