Fritillary on Monarda

Fritillary on Monarda

There is a group around here that turns up at meetings and events, carrying posters about Monarchs.  They are alarmed, and they want everyone else to be alarmed, too. I’ve been biting my tongue.  My problem with this misty-eyed, poster-waving group is that in focusing on one species they are missing the larger point.  Plant milkweed in your yard, they seem to be saying, and everything will be fixed.  Well, ok.  I have a river of swamp milkweed running through my garden (smells divine!) and I actually see Monarchs in about the numbers I would expect.

In the area that I monitored butterflies for 20 years, there are over 40 species of butterflies, and don’t get me started on moths!  You might have to get close to some of them to see it, but each of these creatures is gorgeous and worthy of protection.  Each one has complicated life histories, and each one faces challenges from the way humans do things.

And not just butterflies, of course.  The bullfrogs who sang out all through my childhood…where have they gone?  I don’t know, but I can tell you that the pond I so enjoyed now sports a ring of mcmansions, all with perfect Chem-lawn green skirts. Perhaps most distressing to me of all is that NO ONE else has noticed.  Not even the naturalists I talk to.  When I point out that you don’t hear bullfrogs anymore they scoff. Then they cock their head to listen.. Then their face goes still…. oh.

One of the big problems is habitat fragmentation.  I’ll give you an example.  There is a strip of dunes that a group fought to save, many years ago.  Those dunes are the heart of Illinois Beach State Park.  They are tricky to care for, because if you run fire through, the creeping juniper dies.  If you go in and hand pull invasive exotics, you disturb the fragile sandy soil. And, I’ve been watching succession take place.  This is as it should be, but it is also heartbreaking.  As organic material accumulates in the older dunes, more species of plants are supported.  So grasses and forbs are moving in, and even trees.  The patches of juniper and bear- berry shrink.  To monitor butterflies is also to monitor the plants they depend on, and by extension, the ecosystem.  When succession proceeds, some of those species will wink out.  If the park weren’t surrounded by towns and pavement, the rare plants and their butterflies could still find refugia further up along the shore.  Sadly, though, this very specialized habitat is boxed in.  There is nowhere for these species to go.

What can we do?  Find locally, responsibly grown native plants.  Native to YOUR region.  If everyone dedicated even a corner of their yard to a native shrub or two and a handful of native flowers, those corners would start to connect up, creating rivers of habitat running for miles.  Think what a difference that could make.  Know ahead of time that native plants can be unruly.  But they don’t require water or chemicals to thrive.  You’ll notice it feels different, in that corner.  The air has a different energy to it, the soil will be more springy.  And you’ll start to see wonders.  I am constantly surprised by new creatures calling my yard home~yesterday I saw a southern flying squirrel!

Another thing we can do: fight Monsanto!  Pay attention to how much control over our food supply they have taken, how they have reduced the access farmers have to diverse seeds, providing seeds that require inputs of chemicals to grow.  This is bad news for the farmers, bad news for butterflies, bad news for us.

So, yes, Monarchs deserve our attention.  But it is a mistake to try to save the world one species at a time.  I believe our world can weather global warming -ahem- if we pay attention to the forest, and not just the trees.

Published by melissabluefineart

visit me at to see my original paintings available for sale.

24 thoughts on “Fritillary on Monarda

  1. Well said. Development of cities and such is eating up our ecosystems. Your comment about the mcmansions around ponds and the bull frogs reminds me of a statistic I read. It said the avg suburban lawn gets 10x as much chemicals applied by the owner as a farm field gets. Much of it runs into local watershed. Our local pond formed a few years ago is now filling up with sand from runoff of construction sites and turning green choked with algae bloom. I have not seen anything else growing in it.

  2. This is an intelligent and responsible post…bravo! We have similar stories of our desert landscapes going silent in New Mexico…bob

  3. I can’t even begin to tell you how well your thoughts reflect my own.
    However, I am very pessimistic about there being any groundswell of response to these issues happening nationally anytime soon. There are many people speaking up as you have done, but the unfortunate fact is that the vast majority of folks won’t be seriously concerned until this bites them in the butt. I just hope it is not too late once that finally happens. I know of many decent and nature loving people who will still shop in the big stores to save a few dollars. Sure those dollars add up, but at what other cost in the long run. At least in the U.S. it appears that foresight is not a respected virtue either by the public, corporations and, therefore, not our politicians, too many of whom have no respect for science.

  4. Ha! Thanks, Steve! I also got wound up, and pretty much forgot about it also :).
    It is so frustrating, isn’t it, watching good people make short-sighted decisions. A few towns over from mine now requires LEED certified construction on all new building, including permeable paving. It drives me crazy that my own town refuses to do this too.

  5. Melissa, I just came across your request to access the link I mentioned in a previously comment. Sorry for it not working. It should be fine if you try it again…bob

  6. “My problem with this misty-eyed, poster-waving group is that in focusing on one species they are missing the larger point… [E]ach of these creatures is gorgeous and worthy of protection. Each one has complicated life histories….”

    On the wildflower side, people in Texas have mythologized the bluebonnet, which of course is a beautiful lupine, no question, but they’ve “done it to death” (the promotion and representation, that is, not the plant itself). One of the purposes of my blog is to make people aware of the hundreds of other species that are native in central Texas. All of those plants have complicated and interesting lives, and all can reward a closer look.

  7. Exactly, Steve, and I am so glad you are doing so. Sometimes I feel like we are “preaching to the choir” but hopefully the message we are trying to send will reach some people who aren’t yet aware that there are many, many species beyond the poster children species, and deeper connections to nature can be forged.

  8. You are so right in your comments, I live in the Uk and we have the same problems. It makes me frightened when I think what we are doing to our life support system. Each tiny tiny insignificant creature or plant has a unique place in the ecosystem and we disregard it at our peril. Listened to a very interesting talk by George Monbiot (sp?) about ‘rewilding’ Yellowstone Park which made me realise if we gave nature space and time again things would improve.

  9. Great, insightful and alerting post. People sometimes interrupt the natural chains by boosting some species and disregarding the other ones in the same habitat. It always proved wrong in a long term. Totally agree about Monsanto, these modified seeds were prohibited in some European countries (I’m not aware about the situation at the moment), and so widely used in North America. Although, there is evidence the outcome is bad for humans, nobody pays any attention. This just shows how much big money and power are allowed to do.
    Your painting is very beautiful, and your ideas should be brought to wider audience!

  10. Yes! Fight Monsanto! I’ve been working in the animal welfare field for 28+ years now, and have learned more than I ever wanted to know about how animals of every species, in every country, are used and for what purpose and how, the environment, our food supply, etc., etc. I have to fight not to make my blog a constant commentary on these issues because I would just never stop, but it’s not what my blog is about. (Well, animals, yes, but …) So I am very grateful that others such as yourself are putting this info out there and more, different people are getting the message. Thanks! (Yes, Monsanto – creator of rBGH, Agent Orange, ethoxyquin, GMO … ) Jeanne
    p.s. Frogs are considered the “canary in the coal mine”.

    1. Hi Jeanne, thank you for stopping by and for your encouraging words. We have to stick together, don’t we? And, as you said, we also have to strike a balance because I believe that too much anger will poison us as much as anything Monsanto might throw at us. I’m glad to have found your blog 🙂

  11. Oooooh. I occasionally run a moth trap. Aren’t they brilliant? People don’t understand how cool they are. I used to get large hawkmoths gripping my finger to show the kids next door. They were fascinated but not so the parents. Habitat fragmentation is a crisis in HK. We have lots of greenery, surprisingly, but it is being chipped away at for development. Rezoning is the buzzword. Away with SSSIs, CAs and GB. That’s why I get so agitated when people “tidy up”. Nature can look after itself in the main. I see fewer birds now. Nice painting BTW but the thoughtfulness is equally inspiring.

  12. Oh, yes, they are brilliant. I was fortunate enough to be along when some entomologists were working with moths, and every once in awhile I see a big one (moth, not entomologist) perched on the trunk of a tree. Cause for celebration! As to tidying up nature, I wish you could see my garden. I think you would approve 🙂 Thank you so much, Andrew.

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