Perhaps no other butterfly is quite as iconic as the monarch, his characteristic orange and black markings brilliant against a summer-blue sky. However, this beautiful sight is sadly in danger of disappearing, as Monarch Butterflies are decreasing at an alarming rate.
Research published this year from the WWF-Telcel Alliance and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve Office of the Mexican government shows a 43.7% decrease in the amount of space occupied by the monarchs, which migrate to the area each winter.
The reason for the decline? Partly because of a harrowing journey from Canada and the United States which included extreme weather conditions and less space available in Mexico because of illegal logging. However, the biggest reason for their decline is because monarchs main food supply—milkweed—is in short supply due to the fact that the herbicides farmers use on other crops has killed off many of the plants.
A Milkweed Diet
Many may not realize that milkweed is the only food of the monarch butterfly caterpillar. Female monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaf, and when the caterpillar is born, he begins his nonstop feeding frenzy for the next 9-14 days. He feasts only upon the milkweed plant.
The leaves and stems he ingests make him distasteful to other predators, saving him from the clutches of hungry birds. When the caterpillar has finished chowing, he creates himself a chrysalis and begins his metamorphosis into a butterfly.
Sadly, the sweeping expanse of the Great Plains—the flyway zone for monarchs travelling from northern regions to Mexico—simply does not have enough milkweed plants to sustain the butterflies. This is a result of farmers using herbicides on their increased corn crops, which kill off the milkweed plant. The result? Nowhere for monarchs to lay their eggs, and a decreased population.
Milkweed had long been a fascination for Herb Knudsen when he was with Standard Oil of Ohio back in the 1980’s. When the company was acquired by British Petroleum, they sold Herb the milkweed project he was working on, trying to develop crude oil from milkweed.
Herb realized the wonderful insulating properties of milkweed and started an offshoot business—the Ogallala Comfort Company, which combines the syriaca clusters from the milkweed plant with goose down to create bedding products that are as soft as a dream.
This “Hypodown” is pretty amazing—it increases fill power, is hypoallergenic, and does a wonderful job wicking moisture away from the body. Ogallalas products are revolutionizing the sleep product industry.
A Team Effort for Butterflies
Ogallala and Monarch Flyway are busy “growing,” the potential of milkweed, studying the many other benefits of the plant to protect and improve health. Not only do they sell sustainably-sourced milkweed products, they also sell the raw materials for people to grown their own and help the monarch population. They have the sweetest of dreams—for the people who sleep better because of their products and the monarchs who benefit from an increased habitat!