Borders of Care: Ethnography with the Monarch Butterfly
Monarch resting in oyamel tree in Mexico. Photo by author.
The migratory monarch butterfly, sometimes also called the “super butterfly” and the “Bambi of the insect world,” performs a majestic migration across North America (Canada, the United States, and Mexico). Each year, the insect travels up to 4,000 km to a warmer habitat when their host plant, a perennial “weed” known as milkweed, goes dormant from fall to spring.
More than a host, milkweed can be seen as the monarch’s home
More than a host, milkweed can be seen as the monarch’s home or “oikos” (Greek root for “ecos,” meaning home). The plant provides food for the insect in all of its life stages. It grants them shelter as eggs and chrysalis, and later, by passing its toxic chemicals to the butterflies, milkweed even gives them a defense system. Monarchs’ reliance on milkweed is so strong that if the plant is present year-round, monarchs will stay in place all year instead of migrating. If milkweed goes dormant, monarchs go dormant as well.
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Columba Gonzalez-Duarte is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University. She explores multispecies relations between monarchs, labour migration, and Indigenous communities within North America.