Our landscapes and our grocery stores would look much different if we lost our pollinators. That is because millions of years of co-evolution between flowering plants and insect pollinators has shaped our daily lives, from the gorgeous wildflowers adorning our fields to many of the delicious foods we eat like: chocolate, apples, tomatoes, strawberries, watermelons, and many more.
Pollinators get their carbohydrates from nectar and their essential amino acids from pollen. Nature had created a beautiful balance of diverse flowers to support pollinators’ nutritional needs, but much of the once abundant fields of wildflowers have disappeared due to increasing development and habitat destruction. This has left many of our pollinators living in food deserts and suffering from malnutrition.
That is why Insect Diva is planting a pollinator flower for every purchase made from our boutique. We want our customers to be part of conserving our pollinators through planting a much needed nourishing meal for these hardworking insects. And we hope that every time you see a pollinator thriving and dining on flowers you are filled with joy and peace, because when we take care of the health of our pollinators, we take care of the health of the whole plant.
And, you can follow the story of your flowers by following Insect Diva on Instagram as we share updates on the conservation work we are accomplishing together through your support.
Monarch butterflies are one of nature’s true marvels, their gorgeous stained-glass wings carry them each year along their migratory route from Canada to Mexico. These butterflies hold strong aesthetic and scientific significance, from the secrets of how the monarch caterpillars sequester toxins they eat within their tissues without themselves being poisoned to the beauty and lessons we can learn about aeronautics and navigation from the long journey the adults undertake.
Monarch butterflies savor the warmer weather of Mexico during the cold winter months, while enjoying the cooler weather of North America during the summer months where they raise their young, lovingly laying their eggs on the only plants their caterpillars can eat, milkweed. Besides providing vital nutrients, milkweed plants transfer their toxins to the young caterpillars, which these baby butterflies then use to make themselves toxic to predators. Even with this ingenious defense, these stunning butterflies are dwindling due in large part to lack of milkweed plants that are necessary for caterpillars to survive.
The Monarch Collection from Insect Divais geared at trying to reverse this trend, and all profits are going towards the Insect Diva Monarch Conservation Project to plant vital milkweed and floral sources to support the Atlantic Coast Migratory route of our monarch butterflies. The collection features real flower pendants preserved in resin and American made brass monarch butterflies hand painted and incorporated into elegant necklaces, earrings, brooches and sunglasses. I hope you love this collection and gift yourself or someone you care about with these handmade treasures that also help conserve our environment.
This project is especially close to my heart because I grew up along the Atlantic Coast migration route of these beautiful butterflies, and used to delight in seeing them every summer as they returned from Mexico.
Over the years however the monarch butterflies became fewer and fewer in the area, until I did not see any. So I decided to do something about it and started clearing and planting land with milkweed, the vital monarch caterpillar host plant. I also began rearing and releasing monarch caterpillars into the wild to help revitalize the dwindling populations of these butterflies along the Atlantic Coast. Your purchases of The Monarch Collection helps fund the growing and maintaining of milkweed plants and other floral sources to support the Atlantic Coast monarch populations. And I am delighted to share that after our first year with this project we are already seeing great success! Healthy and abundant monarch populations have already began recolonizing this area along the Atlantic Coast. Through your support, we hope to conserve the scientific and cultural wonder of these butterflies for generations to come!
Did you know that you can turn your consumer power into the power to help conserve our environment? The fast fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. The goal of fast fashion is to produce designs quickly at a low cost to satisfy quickly changing trends and consumer demands. This model encourages consumption over enjoyment and contentment with your purchases, because almost as soon as you buy one item the company has come out with a new design or the cheap item has broken. Beyond the costs to our peace and our wallets, the fast fashion industry has devastating effects on the environment. These include: clothing dyes and chemicals which end up in our waterways, carbon emissions to produce such large quantities of product, the waste created when fashion is made cheaply and disposed of regularly, and more. Read, Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry for more information on the environmental costs of the fast fashion industry.
This is why more designers and consumers alike have been gravitating to slow fashion, a system that creates products more slowly and sustainably. These item are often, but not always, produced in the USA, Europe, or Canada, and buying local is part of this movement because it reduces carbon emissions of goods traveling far distances like large freight ships running between Asian and the USA. Beyond the environmental benefits of slow fashion, shifting from a trend-focused anxiety laden consumer mindset to one focused on quality and that truly makes you happy and adds value to your life can help bring a sense of peace and calm
Only very recently have we had so many options to choose from, think of our ancestors hunting and gathering millions or even 30,000 years ago, there were only one or two berries or roots available at a given time to gather, only a certain area to hunt a specific animal, only a few places from which to obtain water, even only a handful of mates from which to choose. That means for millions of years we have evolved with relatively few choices, and this new era of so many options can leave us anxious, confused, and without the ability to know what the impacts of our decisions are. But slow fashion is an attempt to be kind to ourselves and our environment by bringing us back to a more natural and thoughtful mode of hunting and gathering, because what is shopping but modern hunting and gathering.
At Insect Divawe provide a slow fashion shopping experience for jewelry inspired by nature and even made with upcycled items from the natural world like flowers. Our boutique is stocked with some of our staple consistent sellers along with limited edition made to order pieces. These limited edition designs allow our customers to tell us what they want, instead of making new products and convincing customers that they want what we already have in stock. In this way we can significantly cut down on waste in our own production as well as try to cut down on waste from the typical fast fashion problem of customers throwing away items bought which they did not really want.
Additionally, being able to fund hands-on conservation projects through purchases from Insect Divais a passion of mine. I grew up during the 90s at a time when the media and local communities empowered people to assume personal responsibility for taking care of our environment. Lately however doing hands on conservation has increasingly gone out of style and has been replaced by merely “spreading awareness” about conservation or expecting politicians to protect our environment for us. Unfortunately this not only leaves us disconnected from nature, but it also leaves nature disconnected from the powerful impacts that individuals can have through practices like habitat restoration, gardening for pollinator conservation, and using consumer power to help our environment. We all have an incredible power to help the environment as consumers through practices like 1) buying locally produced or conservation conscious products,2)purchasing reusable instead of single use items (e.g. reusable shopping bags and water bottles), 3) investing in recycled or upcycled items (e.g. shopping at thrift stores and for products made from recycled or upcycled items), and simply 4) consuming less (the easiest way to do this is through investing in quality items that will last a long time instead of trendy poorly made items prone to quickly falling apart). With so many 90s trends coming back, I think we should bring back the 90s trend of personal responsibility in conserving our world.
Insect Diva was created by Dr. Diana, a PhD in Entomology and artist with one simple goal, to make conservation beautiful and accessible. to achieve this goal we started The Insect Diva Monarch Conservation Project to help bolster dwindling populations of the scientifically and culturally important monarch butterfly. Under the direction of Dr. Diana the project focuses on clearing land of invasive plant species and replanting it with flowers, and milkweed species native to Eastern North America to support the Atlantic Coast migration of monarch butterflies. This work is funded by your purchases from The Monarch Collection by Insect Diva, and allows the consumer to take an active role in conservation by using consumerism for environmental betterment. We also want to Educate and empower individuals to take on conservation projects of their own, and hope you will find the information below inspires you to do so.
Monarch butterflies are fascinating organisms, their migratory nature connects North and South America in a shared conservation goal. While small Monarch populations exist in Southeast Asia, Australia, and some isolated areas, the populations in North and South American exhibit surprising ingenuity, vacationing during the cold winter months in the warm forests of Mexico, and then summering in the cooler climate of North America.
The migratory strategy of Monarch butterflies is an ingenious adaptation to no only save monarchs from the lethal cold, and also helping to protect them from a dangerous pathogen, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE for short. How exactly does this work? The only plant that monarch caterpillars eat and even need to survive is milkweed, because they use the cardiac glycoside toxins from the leaves to make themselves poisonous to predators. In fact, the bright and striking warm colors on monarch caterpillars and butterflies are actually warning signals to predators of their poisonous nature. This defense mechanism is called, aposematic coloring, which means “warning sign” coloration, because it acts as a caution signal of an organism’s toxicity. This idea of bright reds, orange, and yellows mixed with a strongly contrasting white or black as being toxic and attention grabbing is so ingrained in nature that even road signs are designed from this principle. The bright red and white of a stop sign or the striking orange and black of construction signs take advantage of an innate evolved predisposition to pay attention to these colors as warnings.
The OE pathogen takes advantage of this connection between monarchs and milkweed because the disease is usually transmitted from the mother to her eggs and the milkweed leaves on which she lays them. As the summer progresses, more and more of this pathogen builds up on milkweed plants, increasing and intensifying the infection in monarch caterpillars. Though this disease is found in many monarch populations, the pathogen does not usually occur in high enough numbers to cause detrimental effects to the monarchs. This is because the milkweed plants and the OE pathogens die off every winter, while the monarch butterflies fly off to their vacation destination in the Mexico forests where they spend the winter drinking tropical nectar from flowers and enjoying the warm South American sun. They do not begin to reproduce and raise new caterpillars again until the following summer as they travel north to raise their young in the safe and nutritious North American fields of milkweed. And the newly blooming milkweed is free from last season’s OE infection, providing a healthy home for the caterpillars to develop.
This is why planting milkweed is such a fantastic contribution to monarch butterfly conservation. However, in people’s enthusiasm to help the butterflies, many have actually created a hazard for the monarchs by planting the non-native tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, which naturally occurs only as far north as Mexico where there are never monarch caterpillars. Tropical milkweed when planted in the USA continues blooming year-round in USDA hardiness zones8-11, and farther north where tropical milkweed cannot overwinter, many people bring the plant inside and keep it alive to replant in the spring. In both cases the result is milkweed plants that do not die off in the winter and create a serious health risk to monarch caterpillars, accomplishing the exact opposite goal of helping the monarch butterflies. You can find more information about the negative effects of tropical milkweed and which milkweed species to plant for monarch conservation in this publication from the Monarch Joint Venture.
Thus, monarch’s transient lifestyle naturally separates their caterpillars from dangerous levels of the OE pathogen and teaches us that we must be mindful of respecting the native biodiversity of each region. Laws do not always reflect the science, and if people are allowed to bring this plant that can be harmful to the already dwindling monarch butterfly populations, then it’s up to scientist like myself and others to share the information and empower the general public so that we can take action to save our environment together. It’s important to remember that all of us as individuals have an amazing ability to make positive environmental change through small actions in a way that lawmakers never could. Because a well informed citizen with a peaceful heart to truly make the world better can do incredible things. Remember the lesson from these migratory butterflies who teach us how local environmental action can have far-reaching affects.
DIY Monarch Conservation
You have the power to take monarch butterfly conservation into your own hands through two simple and educationally fascinating projects. First, you can start by planting milkweed plants for the monarch caterpillars to feed upon, and watch as your garden becomes a monarch caterpillar nursery. Second, you can collect monarch butterfly eggs from nature and rear them indoors to later release the adults, this helps bolster monarch butterfly populations by protecting the growing caterpillars from predation. For information on how to get started with both of these conservation projects keep reading.
Monarch Habitat Restoration
Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed plants because these butterflies need the cardiac glycoside toxins of the milkweed plant. This is because monarchs truly are what they eat, having evolved the ingenious mechanism of sequestering the milkweed toxins they ingest permanently into their body tissues, even into adulthood. Ultimately, this makes monarch butterflies poisonous and unpalatable to predators. The decrease in monarch populations has even been linked to habitat destruction and loss of the vital monarch host plant, which means that planting milkweed flowers is one of the most important steps in monarch conservation.
Choosing the Right Variety of Milkweed is Important
Butterfly weed milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a great variety for a small gardens, because it does not usually grow more than 24″ tall, and only spreads by seeds, and not by runner roots underground making it easier to contain in a small garden. This flower is perennial is USDA hardiness zones 3-9, needs full sun, and is very drought resistant because it has a long root that grows several feet down into the ground. This species can look somewhat similar to Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) because of similar flower color and similar leaf shape, but in butterfly weed the leaves are more pointed and the stems and underside of leaves are quite hairy.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incaranata) is another fantastic variety for a smaller garden, it is taller than butterfly weed milkweed growing over 36″ tall, and also only spreads by seeds. This flower is perennial is USDA hardiness zones 3-9, prefers full sun, and is unlike butterfly weed milkweed is not drought resistant and as its name suggests is actually somewhat tolerant of overly moist environments.
A milkweed bug dining on the large seed pods of a Common milkweed plant. Photo credit: Dr. Diana Carle
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is not the best choice for a small garden as it grows well over 36″ tall and can rather aggressively spread by both seed and runner roots under the ground. Instead, this variety is excellent in large sunny fields and can be a great tool to outcompete unwanted invasive plants. This flower is perennial is USDA hardiness zones 3-9, needs full sun, and is relatively drought resistant.
DO NOT Plant Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) in the USA or Canada. The variety of milkweed is native as far north as Mexico, and planting it north of Mexico has been linked to causing harm to monarch populations by spreading the parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). Native milkweed varieties die back every fall along with the OE parasites that buildup on these plants all summer long. Tropical milkweed however remains evergreen up to USDA hardiness zone 8 in the southern USA, and further north where the plant is only an annual gardeners will often bring it in to survive the winter. This allows the OE parasite to multiply and spread over the milkweed plant, effectively turning the food that monarch butterflies need to survive into a health hazard. This is why planting native varieties of milkweed is so important for monarch butterfly conservation.
Monarch Rear and Release
After you have planted the essential food source and host plant for monarch butterflies you can rear and release monarch butterflies into the wild to amplify their populations. Though you can buy monarch caterpillars from a breeder, there are a few problems with this including: decreased genetic diversity and possibly adding even more pathogens into the environment from year-round breeding of the butterflies. As an alternative, you can collect monarch butterfly eggs from the underside of milkweed leaves in the wild. Monarch eggs and 1st instar caterpillars can fall victim to predators, so bringing these eggs and caterpillars indoors for later release as adults can increase the numbers of monarch butterflies in the wild.
Step 1. Find monarch eggs by looking usually on the underside of milkweed leaves. The eggs are shaped like tiny footballs standing upright on the leaf and look pure white just after they are laid, but they soon turn to a warm off-white color. The eggs are attached with a glue-like substance that the mother butterfly secretes so it is best to remove the entire leaf when collecting the eggs. Remember that milkweed plants contain cardiac glycoside toxins and some secrete a milky latex sap when cut so be sure to wash you hands after cutting these leafs.
Step 2. Place the leaves inside of a mesh insect cage with plenty of milkweed leaves to eat. A small potted milkweed plant is a great choice because it provides a fresh continuous supply of food for your caterpillars. Also be sure to choose a safe place to position the cage away from cats and other disturbances.
Step 3. Enjoy watching the eggs hatch and caterpillars grow! Make sure to keep the cage very still while the butterflies pupate so that they emerge as well formed healthy adults.
Step 4. As the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises place a nectar source in the cage for the butterflies to have a meal and build their strength before releasing into the wild.
Step 5. Release the adults into the wild near milkweed plants and good floral nectar sources. Sometimes the butterflies are very docile and will perch on your hand before they fly away so be sure to have your camera ready and enjoy this beautiful experience. Note if you want to repeat the process with another batch of eggs, make sure to thoroughly clean the cage and everything in it to sterilize any pathogens that may have accumulated.