Middle School, Milkweed & Monarch by Vidya Bindal
Updated: Aug 23
by Eco Ambassador Vidya Bindal, Rising Freshman, Millburn Public School
At long last, there is a sign of hope and there are new wings to fly far and wide, literally. For me, as my middle school years come to an end, and I eagerly look forward to high-school there are a wide variety of electives to choose from and varsity sports, and then there is also a great news to share from the world of Nature. The World Wildlife Fund recently reported that there were 35% more monarch butterflies in Mexico’s forests this year than the previous year!
The monarch butterfly is a beautiful insect, and a legend in its own right. It travels upward of 3000 miles to and from the Northeastern United States to Mexico. It is not just one of nature’s most eye-catching creations, with the bright orange wings, but as is typical of nature, it is also highly helpful in pollination and preservation of local eco-systems.
The monarch butterfly population had been on the decline since 1995 when such a drop was first reported. Since then, this legendary insect was losing its tribe, largely for three main reasons:
· Overlogging of forests in the areas of Mexico where the butterflies migrate to tide over winter in the north.
· Climate crisis. As our planet warms, each new year recording higher temperatures, the butterflies’ migratory route between Canada, the US, and Mexico becomes less hospitable.
· And last but not the least loss of Milkweed plants. Milkweed is a critically important plant because the choosy Monarch only lays eggs on these plants, and this plant then becomes the only food source for monarch caterpillars.
The loss of these butterflies was thus indicative of not just a loss of a natural process but also a distressing reminder of how we the humans are causing irrecoverable damage to our planet. However, as we can see from the latest WWF report, perhaps some people somewhere made note and started to undo the damage done on this innocent creature. I want to think that I know some, if not all, of those people. I know that my township of Millburn has been actively promoting the creation of monarch waystations in private yards, and a community native plants gardens with ample milkweeds, was especially created for this purpose. I am equally proud to mention that not only did we attempt such a garden in our backyard too, but that as eighth graders in our science class we dived fully into the nuances of the life-cycle of the Monarch butterfly culminating the year-long project with germinating milkweed seeds and growing them in our classrooms, to finally be able to take them to our homes and plant them. I was told by my school that while monarchs as a topic are not formally a part of the curriculum yet, teachers are encouraged to introduce ‘extra’ elements in the class to help students learn about different content and skills in science. In that context, I was filled with more hope for Nature when even my younger sister reported doing a similar native plants project in her school’s newly formed environmental club.
To have our in-class school experience be so meaningfully aligned to a real problem in Nature was already gratifying, and then to learn that our efforts, combined with those of many other smaller entities like us, are having an impact, is the icing on the cake. I look forward to a greater immersion in real-world problems of our world, in high school now.
Photo by Vidya Bindal. Lake Placid, NY.