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There are many legends about the Monarch butterfly animal spirit and its symbolism. The most prevalent is that the Monarch butterfly spirit represents change, a rebirth into something more healthy and more attractive than before. For the powerful serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, a meso-American god, the butterfly was a symbol of birth, as legends state Quetzalcoatl was born from a chrysalis, just as the butterfly.  Some Native American tribes believed that butterflies dance in the air, and to them it was a sign to dance more through life, to not take life quite so seriously. To the Blackfeet tribe, Monarch butterfly spirits come when one sleeps, bringing dreams. Indeed, the women of the tribe would put a butterfly symbol over the forehead of their babies when they wanted them to sleep.  With all the prevalent worldwide legends about them, it is no wonder that butterflies are so beloved.

Monarch butterflies are not only stunning in their colors, they are the only butterfly that flies thousands of miles for the winter months. Only Monarchs that are born in late summer and early fall make this migration to either California or Mexico. The Monarchs from the Eastern part of the United States and Canada arrive in Mexico in late October. In fact, many artistic representations of the Day of the Dead, an annual October celebration in Mexico, celebrations often show a Monarch, as they arrive very close to this festival. In some parts of Mexico it is believed that the Monarchs are the spirits of their departed relatives come to visit.

The migration to winter in a warmer climate is quite large. Just last September, weather forecasters were wondering why their radar was showing inclement weather, when they were experiencing a sunny, dry day. Radar has at times shown large flocks of birds or insects migrating, but this was an

Migrating Monarch butterflies on radar in St. Louis, Missouri. 2014.

Migrating Monarch butterflies on radar in St. Louis, Missouri. 2014.

unusual time of year to spot such a phenomena. It was later determined that what the radar had shown were Monarch butterflies migrating south for the winter. The blue and green areas on this image are the Monarchs on their journey.

Sadly, the Monarch butterfly is in trouble. Last year the number of Monarch’s who traveled to winter in Mexico were down by 40%. Once their wintering destination, just west of Mexico City, covered an average of 22 acres between 1994 – 2003, are now down to 2.9 acres. There are multiple reasons for the decline of the Monarch. The deforestation of the fir trees used for wintering, diversion of water from their natural areas, and indeed, the loss of natural areas for them to live and rest. The decline of their eco-system and the widespread use of herbicides are two issues that are within our control as individuals to help our butterfly friends.

Monarch butterflies drink flower nectar for food. Make sure the flowers you plant in your garden are not treated with with chemicals. This seems simple, but it has been revealed that some flower distributers are using pest control chemicals in their plants, which is not only effecting the butterfly population as a whole, but also the bee population, which is so vital to sustaining our food crops.

Milkweed is the only thing a Monarch in larvae form eats. The Monarch is known as the “milkweed butterfly,” and yet, milkweed isn’t as common as it used to be. It has been suggested that all gardeners should devote an area to their gardens to milkweed in order to help save the Monarch. If you love butterfly gardens, this seems a simple request, and an easy thing to add to your plot. There are many different varieties of milkweed. Choose some that are good for your climate and area of the country, and make certain that the grower doesn’t use chemicals on it. Better yet, if you have the time, grow the milkweed from your own seeds to assure that it is the best chemical free plant you can plant for our Monarch friends.

If you belong to your local garden club, perhaps suggest a way your area of the country can help the Monarch butterfly, and put it into action. Be the inspiration to help our dancing friends.

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