Milkweed, Diverse Plants Essential For Returning Monarch Butterflies

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STONEHAM, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — As Massachusetts makes it way through the final weeks of winter, monarch butterflies are preparing to return home from their winter vacation.

"The butterflies that will be here in Massachusetts are going to be something like the great-great-grandchildren of the butterflies that are alive right now in Mexico, and they have no idea of what conditions are like here in Massachusetts," said Matthew Kamm, Conservation Outreach Coordinator for Zoo New England.

Every fall, North American monarch butterflies migrate from their summer breeding grounds to warmer climates like Mexico and California. Once winter ends, the butterflies return, mating and laying eggs as they fly north and east. Monarchs breed continually through the summer, which requires a steady supply of milkweed for the larvae to feed on.

"Their larvae, the caterpillars, can only eat milkweed," Kamm told WBZ NewsRadio. "They’re pretty much only found on milkweed, and they actually use the toxins in the milkweed sap. They sequester that toxin in their bodies and it helps protect them as both caterpillars and adults from predators, so in order to complete their lifecycle, butterflies absolutely need to have milkweed."

Read More: Salem Woman Does Her Part To Save Endangered Monarch Butterflies

Kamm and other conservation experts are calling on Massachusetts residents to grow milkweed in their yards to help the endangered monarch butterfly population.

"If you can grow milkweed in your yard, that is absolutely essential for monarch butterflies to complete their lifecycles," Kamm said.

Kamm also recommended planting a diverse selection of nectar plants as well.

"By having a diversity of plants in your yard, you can ensure that there is always food available for butterflies that come by, whenever they might come by."

WBZ's James Rojas (@JamesRojasNews) reports.

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