Why Monarch Butterflies Are Doomed

October 29, 2015 | By | Comments (8)
Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from an aster. Photo: conservesenecacounty.com

Remember when monarch butterflies filled the skies, flitting from flower to flower? Nowadays, you hardly see any, and environmentalists are very concerned. They say that unless things change, this beautiful creature may very well be the first insect to go extinct in our lifetimes. The trouble is, they keep pointing to the wrong cause.

These misguided scientists attribute the drastic decline in the monarch migration to the development of previously marginal cropland in order to grow corn to make ethanol. This development has eliminated many of the wild milkweed plants and its relatives (such as butterfly weed and Joe-pye weed) that monarch butterfly caterpillars dine on exclusively.


Common milkweed. Photo: monarchbutterflygarden.net

Garden designers like John Magee of John Magee Landscape Design in Middleburg, Virginia have taken up the cause. John advocates the use of native plants and wildflowers in gardens like the one below. He also urges average homeowners to add milkweed and other monarch butterfly host plants to their landscapes to aid monarchs in their annual migration from the United States to the mountain forests in Mexico where they spend the winter.

Butterfly flowers

Black-eyed Susans and native hibiscus. Photo: John Magee

Nice thought, Mr. Magee, but it won’t work. Why? Because the number one cause of disappearing monarch butterflies is NOT the loss of milkweeds. It is, rather, a fearsome predator that absolutely no one but the Grump has the courage to talk about.


Giant panda hunting for monarchs in a wildflower meadow. Photo: true-wildlifeblogspot.com

The giant panda bear. Though it looks like a bear, it is more closely related to Gene Simmons of the rock group, Kiss. Simmons, however, poses no danger to monarchs.

Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons, panda relative. Photo: dailymail.co.uk

Giant panda bears do. Up until now, it was believed that pandas dined almost exclusively on bamboo. But periodically, bamboo groves experience mass die-offs. When that happens, these voracious animals turn to another source of food. Monarch butterflies.

Do you know how many monarchs it takes to feed a huge mammal like a panda? I don’t either, but it stands to reason it must be plenty.

So the question becomes: which of these iconic creatures will we save? If we protect monarchs from pandas, pandas will surely go extinct. You don’t want to kill off pandas, do you, Mr. Magee? It’s truly a Hobson’s Choice (look it up).

Fortunately, there is a logical answer. And that is for homeowners across this land to plant more bamboo, not milkweed. Abundant bamboo means hungry pandas won’t eat monarchs. Lewis Bamboo is an excellent mail-order source. How many bamboo plants may we put you down for, John?

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  1. pauline sexton

    Wow. You really think pandas are the problem? It’s my husbands dang cats. They are murder on any and all butterflies that dare flit too low to the ground. These cats take down butterflies, dragonflies, lizards and any other creature that dares enter my garden. Dang ole cats.

    November 9, 2015 at 9:50 pm
  2. John Magee

    I for one am very grateful that Grumpy has brought this real danger to our attention. I’ve already set up three Panda Bear traps in my pollinator garden and am hoping for a nice new Panda Bear rug soon. I never thought of Panda’s as exotic invasives before, but maybe I should. I’m not convinced though that Gene Simmons poses no threat to Monarchs, I’ll need to see more data on that to be convinced. Thank you again Grumpy for bringing this terrible scourge to our attention! I have seen the errors of my ways (at least some of them anyway).

    October 29, 2015 at 7:32 pm
  3. leppingva1

    People who know about Monarchs, know that this is humor. But, Monarch butterflies are major food for many other animals. Matter of fact, those animals (dragonflies, Hawks, and birds) migrate the same time that the Monarchs migrate. There are certain species of birds that follow them all the way to Mexico. Monarchs are eaten all winter long in the reserves.

    October 29, 2015 at 5:59 pm
  4. helena452

    This is what happens when it’s 4 am and your gardening column is due in 5 hours. And there’s a random photo of a giant panda lying on your desk

    October 29, 2015 at 4:08 pm
  5. Dorothy Sadler Hemphill

    Oh dear, people are going to read this and think you are serious. NOT! Please don’t plant bamboo – you will regret it and I am so serious. I appreciate humor but not when the real facts are eliminated. Please people do not plant bamboo – you should also know that between the East Coast and Mexico there are not any Panda Bears. So many young people and older people and new gardeners are reading what you have to say Grumpy. Please recant.

    October 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm
  6. Beel (@BoulderBill)

    Lighten up, Evelyn, morons can’t tie their own shoes, do you really think they’ll plant bamboo?

    October 29, 2015 at 3:38 pm
  7. Kathleen

    I just planted 6 Golden Goddess bamboo & have 9 more to go. Guess I was ahead of the curve.

    October 29, 2015 at 3:00 pm
  8. Evelyn Vincent

    I suppose this was intended to be humorous??? It’s not, it’s just stupid…. of particular stupidity is to put out there that folks should plant more bamboo. We have enough morons right now, please refrain from encouraging more.

    October 29, 2015 at 2:31 pm

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