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Why our majestic monarch butterfly needs our help

Why our majestic monarch butterfly needs our help

by Karen Rewcastle July 19, 2019

The plight of our magestic monarch butterfly

The plight of our magestic monarch butterfly was first drawn to my attention last May, whilst watching an interview on Breakfast TV. The presenter was asking Jacqui Knight from the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust about a surprising new trend  - giving wing splints to monarch butterflies.


A bunch of warm-hearted Kiwis were going the extra mile and performing surgery on injured butterflies using deceased butterfly wings, an instructional YouTube video and household items such as coat hangers, talcum powder and superglue.

Opinion is divided on the benefits of the wing transplants. Jacqui Knight told the presenter that whilst she had performed such operations in the past, her view on this matter had now changed. She believes, “looking after the healthy ones” is more important.



The interview made one thing very clear - kindly Kiwis love butterflies and are willing to do their bit to help them. The butterfly surgery was an altruistic response to a growing problem.


The monarch butterfly is becoming scarce. Last year began with news of a national shortage of swan plants causing mass starvation and the death of monarch caterpillars. By the end of the year, in an interview with NZ Herald, Jacqui reported that they were seeing fewer, if any, monarch butterflies and some of those they were seeing were not laying any eggs.


Knight commented that she first started noticing fewer monarchs in February of 2017 however the scarcity of them by December 2018 was alarming. She said, “In 50 years of studying monarchs I have not witnessed this before...I've just got to figure out why."



So what can we do to help?  



Tips to raise more magnificent monarchs

(Taken from the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust

 Plant nectar flower seeds

 Grow your own swan plants from seed – that way you will know for sure whether the leaves are safe for caterpillars. Buy seed anywhere you see Yates products. Yates gives the MBNZT a donation for each packet sold. Plant seeds now for next year.

 Grow plants on from previous years so that they are in their second season and over 1 metre tall.

 When you buy plants, buy twice as many and protect some for next year’s monarchs.

 Seedlings that pop up in the wrong place can be left until you need food.

 Caterpillars shed their skin five times. Do not disturb them when they are moulting. Observe the life cycle but minimise handling. 

 Pesticides such as fly sprays, plug-in insect controls and flea collars on pets will kill caterpillars. Sun-screen and cosmetics on hands can also affect them.

 If your caterpillars need more food let them move themselves to the new plant. Put the new plant next to the old one or cut the stems with caterpillars and put them on the new plant.

 Remember, swanplants and monarchs are poisonous so be careful when handling them. Monarchs store toxic steroids (known as cardenolides) from the swanplant and use them as a defence against some predators. The colour orange is a warning to say ‘I taste bad’.

 There are different types of milkweed, of which swanplant is one. New plant(s) may not immediately appeal to your caterpillars. Water the new plant well to rehydrate it.

 Buy your plants from a certificated garden centre to be confident plants are pesticide-free.

 People are urged to report sightings or fewer than usual sightings of monarch butterflies at


How Snail Mail Stories are doing their bit


Snail Mail Stories deliver nature-themed envelopes to children’s letterboxes every month, all across New Zealand. Each envelope includes an inspiring letter, poetry, activities and crafts, all designed to encourage kids to learn and play in a sustainable way. 


This month’s envelope is all about butterflies and focuses on our majestic monarch. In collaboration with Jacqui Knight and the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust we will be including nectar flower seeds and swan plant seeds in our envelopes, along with educational facts and activities, in the hope that we can help draw attention to the plight of the monarch butterfly.


 Additionally, $1 for every envelope bought will be donated to the trust. 


5 reasons we love butterflies


1. They are beautiful and inspiring. Butterflies are well-known for their beauty. The dreamy way in which they float through the sky and their array of magnificent colours has inspired poetry for centuries.

2. We need them. Butterflies play an important role as the pollinators of many plants. The presence or absence of butterflies indicates the health of the surrounding environment.

3. We need to protect them. As mentioned, butterflies are becoming increasingly scarce. How can we not hear the call to save these delicate and delightful creatures?

4. Metamorphosis. Butterflies start as tiny eggs, grow into caterpillars, hide in chrysalises, finally emerging as breathtaking and beautiful winged wonders. Who can’t be intrigued by this process of change?

5. Kids love them and the earth will thank us. Butterflies are floaty, colourful and cool. They taste with their feet! Naturally, most kids love butterflies. Butterflies are a powerful learning tool to inspire children to become interested in nature. Kids who grow to love nature are more likely to grow into environmentally conscious adults in the future.

Do you know a butterfly lover? If so share this article and do your bit! 

Article Sources

Breakfast - TVNZ on demand. 4/5/18 7.35am (1hr 36 mins into the show) Interview with Jacqui Knight   - Monarch Metamorphosis and Butterfly Gardening February 2006.

concern as monarch butterfly sightings drop - plea for public help. NZ Herald 21/12/2018

Karen Rewcastle
Karen Rewcastle


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