Working to Save the Monarch Butterfly During a Pandemic

Photo taken in summer 2017 in my front yard. Photo by Xilong Zhao.

SCHOOLS

By Raymond Zhao

One of my dreams is to live in a small town with colorful milkweed lining sidewalks and trails, with golden monarch butterflies dancing across each and every flower.

Photo taken on June 4, 2020 in my backyard. Photo by Xilong Zhao.

This town could very well be Chapel Hill. Just imagine every year many monarch butterflies passing through Chapel Hill, laying their eggs on the milkweed. Wouldn’t a large population of monarch butterflies flying in the sky be a great addition to this already beautiful town?

That’s what the East Chapel Hill High School Monarch Butterfly Club, which was formed during the 2019-2020 school year, is trying to do, promoting the well-being of monarch butterflies.

They are an endangered species, most well known for their unique, thousand-mile migration pattern. Monarchs also have distinct orange and black-striped wings that can easily be made out.

One of the most important factors guiding monarch butterfly migration is milkweed. Milkweed is poisonous to most animals, but monarch butterfly larvae have a special enzyme that allows them to digest the poisons, making milkweed the only plant the larvae can eat.

Photo taken on June 6, 2020 in my backyard. Photo by Xilong Zhao.

But due to the growth of croplands for an increasing population, large sections of prairies, where most wild milkweed grow, have been destroyed. Many other factors have led to the endangerment of monarch butterflies, including climate change which is causing harsher winters and chemical herbicides, which kill milkweed.

Without milkweed to lay their eggs on, the population could dwindle even more than the already slim population. Our club is dedicated to saving as many monarch butterflies as we can, as well as educating people about the importance and beauty of the monarch.

Over the past few months, we have received large amounts of milkweed from the BASF company, as part of their 2020 Living Acres Program. With those, we have been able to propagate over 600 new milkweed saplings from the old plants. Now we are eager and excited to give out these milkweed plants, which are growing very fast and need a new home with enough nutrients.

Weeks ago, we began to offer the milkweed plants and ask for monarch butterfly lovers to pick up the milkweeds at our front door. But the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have hit at a worse time. Because of the pandemic, it is hard to hold meet-ups and drop off newly propagated milkweed to people.

Photo taken on June 7, 2020 in my backyard. Photo by Xilong Zhao.

In the next few months, as things start to settle down, we are planning to hold events, with the required proper PPE, allowing our friends and family to join us in planting milkweed throughout city parks, in front and backyards, along the sidewalks, and more.

But right now, we still have around 300 free milkweeds to give away. If anyone would like milkweed, or has questions and concerns, contact us at eastmonarchbutterflies@gmail.com.

We are hoping to get back to normal life safely and help the monarch butterflies, too.

Raymond Zhao is a rising sophomore at East Chapel Hill High School.

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1 Comment on "Working to Save the Monarch Butterfly During a Pandemic"

  1. Great initiative! Thank you for doing this; wish you all much success.

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