The once abundant and recognizable monarch butterfly species is at serious risk of extinction. Scientists believe that climate change, habitat loss and pesticides have all contributed to the dwindling numbers of these beautiful butterflies.
Farmers, landowners and even homeowners can help
Through basic mowing and habitat practices, you can provide food and shelter for monarchs to grow and thrive.
You probably have heard that milkweed is an important part of the monarch life cycle. In fact, these plants are essential. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch caterpillars feed. Finding places on your farm, acreage or garden for milkweed to grow is a way to provide a monarch habitat.
Limiting mowing can help give milkweed and other native plants a place to establish. By mowing only targeted areas (for example, weedy areas) and not mowing an entire habitat will preserve some areas for monarch caterpillars to feed and grow.
In addition, understanding the breeding and migration cycles of monarchs can help give a time frame for mowing. The Monarch Joint Venture provides maps for recommended management timing as well as monarch migration here.
Mowing for a monarch habitat is a matter of timing and technique:
- Start out by analyzing whether the areas you have been mowing are a necessary expense of your time and equipment. You may have a few areas that can support monarchs (and other wildlife such as birds and other pollinators, too). Keep in mind that a manicured area is a desert in the eyes of wildlife.
- In the areas you do mow, use a cutting height of at least 8-12 inches to minimize impact on native plants and to prevent seed production of weedy plants.
- If mowing is necessary, avoid peak monarch activity to minimize direct impacts to the monarch larvae growing on the milkweed plants. Visually inspect for any monarch activity, like eggs, caterpillars, or frass (caterpillar droppings) and take appropriate measures to protect ones you observe.
- Protect other wildlife, like deer and nesting birds by mowing at reduced speeds and using a flushing bar to allow wildlife to escape while mowing.
- Find new places on your farm for monarchs, other pollinators, and wildlife to thrive by converting idle areas to prairie or pollinator habitat. Once habitat is well-established, mowing or prescribed burning every 3-5 years promotes healthy plant diversity; mowing or prescribed burning too frequently can be detrimental to both the plants and wildlife using the site, including monarchs.
Resources to assist you
- Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, Iowa State University. Find information on establishing a monarch habitat, local experts you can call on for assistance, and more.
- Fishery and Wildlife Services. Useful information for actions for individuals, communities, agriculture and rights of way.
- BASF. This agriculture company offers several useful materials including a brochure “Growing Milkweed in Non-Crop Areas to Benefit the Monarch Butterfly” and an illustration showing how to develop Milkweed Refuges in Non-crop Areas. This page also includes more links, including migration details, starting a milkweed stand and more.