Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Monarch will NOT Eat Your Tomatoes

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Tuesday, I was going about my day, checking e-mails, Facebook, etc... when I saw a post from my co-worker about monarch butterflies. Miranda loves monarchs and heads up our efforts to raise them at Southeastway Park. We have, over the years, successfully raised and released hundred of monarchs butterflies. Eagle Creek Park, also, raises and tags monarchs. Dawn Van Deman has been doing this for many, many years. I am sure she has probably tagged close to, if not over, a thousand monarchs. And, since their numbers are dwindling, we, as naturalists, feel it is important to do our part.

When I read the article Miranda had posted about Ortho Bug B Gone having a monarch on its label, I was quite upset. It took me a little digging around on the web to find out that this was, indeed, not a hoax by someone against the company, but it was, in fact, true. I searched a few places and found an ad for Bug B Gone for sale at Ace Hardware. I pulled the photo up, cropped it and was shocked to see this-a monarch caterpillar eating a tomato. 
ARRGGHHH! Monarchs won't eat your tomatoes!

Folks, monarchs do not, and never will, eat tomato plants. They consume milkweed and plants in the milkweed family, like butterfly weed. You need not worry about them ever eating your garden plants or your decorative flowers and shrubs. They are driven to eat milkweed only.

A teeny, just hatched monarch caterpillar.
This brings about an important point. At Ortho, someone was hired to create this label. And, at least one person, most likely more than one, had to approve it. Despite efforts to educate the public on the benefits of monarchs as an important pollinator and that its numbers are in decline due to weather, weed eradication programs, pesticides and other perils, this label was put on the market. Since I do not use this product, I had no idea it was out there. How long has this label been subliminally informing the public that monarchs are bad? It doesn't "say it" in writing, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Don't they have entomologists that can advise them about the drawings they choose?

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, a great monarch
butterfly plant for nectar and raising caterpillars.

This label could make someone think this caterpillar needs to be eradicated. My mother likes nature. She likes birds and butterflies, but blindly followed what others have told her. Snakes were bad. Spiders were bad. When she was still able to work in her garden and if she had seen a bug that could possibly kill her tomatoes, I am sure she would have sprayed it, no questions asked. And many of the general public are that way, too. They might even know about monarch butterflies and be familiar with their beautiful orange wings, but do they know what the caterpillar looks like?

A monarch caterpillar, almost ready to turn into a chrysalis. My mother
would surely have squirted this with insecticide during her gardening days!
On a good note, it turns out the story was actually about a concerned citizen, David Snow, who contacted Ortho about the label. According to the article in the Los Angeles Times, he asked Ortho why they had a "good-guy bug on your insect killer? It's like putting an innocent child's picture on a U.S. Post Office'Most Wanted' list." After not getting a satisfactory response from Ortho, Snow posted a petition on three weeks ago. The L.A.Times contacted Ortho this past Thursday for comment, July 5th. They were told the information had been forwarded to their marketing team. On Friday, the L.A. Times was contacted by a spokesman for Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., Ortho's parent company. They said "We're updating that label to ensure there is no confusion with the monarch butterfly caterpillars. Consumer concerns are something we always look into."  A little later, David Snow was contacted by a representative that said they were changing the labels.

How does this affect you, the reader? One thing you can do to help the monarch is sign the petition so Ortho and Scott's know there are many, many concerned citizens out there. They promised to change the label, but let's make sure they do! Also, if you see the product on your local store shelves, tell someone at the store about the monarch and how the label is incorrect. Yes, they may just nod their head, but if enough complaints are made they may pull the product with the offending label.  The monarchs need all the help they can get.

Another thing you can do is educate yourself and others about the natural world around you. One way to do that is attending informational sessions about nature like at the Midwest Native Plant Conference, July 27th-29th.  There are many informative speakers with sessions on conifers, native shrubs, pollinators, butterflies, gardening on a low budget and many more. David Wagner is an entomologist and expert on caterpillars and will be one of our keynote speakers. Fun and informative, so check it out! Only a few spaces left! Hope to see you there!StumbleUpon