Saving the Monarchs: Girl Scouts seek La Jollans willing to grow milkweed plants

With its fiery orange wings sporting traversing rich black lines, the Monarch Butterfly is one of the most recognizable species in North America (so says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). But numbers have been dwindling over the last 20 years and the species is “in trouble.”

To do their part to save the graceful insects, Girl Scouts Olivia Lakin, Taylor Guccini, Mimi Jones, Ceci Jones and Natalia Hackbarth are spreading the word about milkweed plants and encouraging fellow La Jollans to plant them throughout The Village. The Monarch Butterfly is reliant on the milkweed plant, considered a “host plant,” for its entire life cycle: Butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves (which hatch after a few days into larvae); the larvae then eat the leaves to grow and become caterpillars; and when their time comes, caterpillars build a chrysalis that hangs on the plant their home until they transform into a butterfly.

A self-sowing plant, milkweed will drop seeds for continuous re-germination, and can be grown in the ground for a garden or in pots.

The five-some are part of Scout Troop 3095 and many have been in Daisy troops since kindergarten. Troop 3095 is also responsible for the “Living Wall” of plants on the Muirlands Middle School campus. For their Silver Award Girl Scout project, they studied the San Diego Monarch with help from educators at Butterfly Farms in Encinitas, and are doing their part to distribute milkweed plants throughout The Village.

Ceci explained, “We looked into (the threats and life cycle of a butterfly), researching, taking notes and writing paragraphs. When we finished our research, we saw firsthand what happened with the Butterfly Farm, and thought about what needed to be done to save the butterflies. This is important because the amount of Monarch Butterflies in La Jolla is rapidly declining. If nothing is done, these beautiful butterflies will become extinct, even though it’s incredibly easy to help them.”

Of the decrease in population numbers, Mimi said, “This is truly a loss, because not only are Monarch Butterflies beautiful, they are also pollinators, and without them many of our favorite crops would die off along with the butterflies. While I admired Monarchs in my backyard, I never realized they were in danger of becoming extinct.”

Current threats to the Monarch Butterfly, according to the Department of Fish & Wildlife, include habitat loss and fragmentation that has occurred throughout the Monarch’s range; pesticide use that can destroy the milkweed; and a changing climate that has intensified weather events that may impact Monarch populations.

To do their part, Olivia added, “The five of us are handing out a limited number of plants, seedlings, and seed packets to people in the Village with a request to pass the word and get involved. We are also making a video (which will be posted on YouTube), posters and fliers to be handed out. We want people to go to butterfly farms, learn about this butterfly and become an advocate. Everyone can do something to help.”

Milkweed can also be found in area nurseries or garden supply stores.

So far, Mimi said, the Scouts have started their outreach to other area troops in case they would like to take some milkweed plants home. “It is essential to plant more milkweed. Spreading awareness is one of the key things in achieving change, as shown in history, and by offering milkweed to other people, we can, hopefully, change the population of Monarchs for the better.”

Milkweed maintenance is just one of the things the girls learned at the Butterfly Farm. “We learned about the natural predators and the human activity that challenges the butterflies,” Olivia said. “Studies in tagging the butterfly taught us about the research going on and the possibility of non-migration. The educators offered classes in learning about conservation, ecosystems and environmental issues. We also learned cool facts, like the caterpillar can eat a whole milkweed leaf in less than five minutes!”

Natalia noted, “When I first went to the Butterfly Farm in Encinitas, I became aware of what was happening with the Monarch. Some of my fellow Girl Scout friends decided to take action and address the issue. … It was quite a great experience.”

Added Ceci, “As I wandered around, a butterfly crawled onto my finger, and later, one landed on my head! It felt pretty special, and I knew that I had to help the butterflies.”

The Silver Award is the highest award for Girl Scout cadets of this age group, and to earn it, they must improve a current situation in a sustainable way.

“Our goal for this project is to make an impact. Although our group realizes we cannot completely fix the Monarchs' low population, our hope is to get it heading in the right direction,” Taylor noted.

Olivia added, “We hope that younger Girl Scout troops will continue our project to encourage our community to participate in something good for all of us,”

Olivia’s mother Marti noted, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get La Jolla Village to become a Monarch butterfly habitat? People would come to see our Monarchs as much as the seals!”

The Scouts will have a milkweed stand at the La Jolla Open Aire Farmer’s Market, Aug. 27, at Girard and Genter. In case you miss them, e-mail marti.lakin@gmail.com

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