By Mike Augustyniak

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –Whether at the Science Museum of Minnesota, or in the classroom, there’s a good chance that you or your kids have had a butterfly as a teacher.

Monarch butterflies have been used for generations to teach elementary-aged children about life cycles and the wonders of nature.

The habits and health of monarchs also teach us a lot about how other insects are faring in our constantly changing world. And, in the past few years, they haven’t been faring too well.

After spending the warm months in the U.S., generally east of the Rockies, monarch butterflies migrate to northern Mexico for the winter.

Kelly Nail, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, says that last winter “the size of the area occupied by monarchs was just over the size of a football field, which is down from about 1996-97 where it was almost 40 football fields worth.”

Monarch numbers are down 97 percent since their peak in the mid-90s, and that signals a big problem.

Monarch butterflies are picky, dining and laying their eggs only on one plant, and that plant is being squeezed out of existence in the U.S.

“There have been a lot of different factors, ranging from land development to crops being sprayed more for milkweed. And that habitat then is no longer there for monarchs to use the milkweed,” Nail said.

One Twin Cities businessman is trying to do something about the disappearance of milkweed, and the butterfly.

In March, Ward Johnson formed SaveOurMonarchs.org, giving away 80,000 packets of free milkweed seeds since then.

“It’s the best way we can make this proliferate. Put them in all the schools, have the kids talking about it, bring it home to their parents,” Johnson said.

If you’d like to help, you can request free milkweed seeds through SaveOurMonarchs.org; or by donating to the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab at monarchlab.org.

Mike Augustyniak