Hello folks who wonder if horses were the original self driving cars,

Once upon a time I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner. But the place to meet the friend was a 90 minute bus ride away. Also, the food we were going to have that night was healthy, locally sourced, organic, non-GMO, ethical farm fresh salads. To avoid missing the bus, I reach the bus stop early and then have to wait 15 minutes for the bus to arrive. So, I start looking around. That is when my eyes fall on the "greatest thing to happen to humanity" since "Penicillin". Yes, that's right, I spotted the nearest Taco Bell location.

I am not the biggest fan of salads, so I decided to grab a quick bite while waiting for the bus. I enter Taco Bell and am immediately greeted by the employee.

Taco Bell Employee: "Hi! Welcome to Taco Bell! What can I get you today?"

Me: Uhh..hi! Gimme a min *scrolling through the expansive menu

Taco Bell Employee: "Sure, be sure to try our Chalupa Supreme®".

Me: Sure, I can have one of those.

Taco Bell Employee: "Ok, what else?"

Me: No, that should be it.

Taco Bell Employee: "If you haven't tried Mexican Pizza®, I highly recommend it. It is my personal favorite"

Me: Sure, I can have that.

Taco Bell Employee: Also, would you like the Nacho Fries®. The crisp fries pair nicely with the cheesy dipping sauce.

Me: Ok, that sounds good!

While wolfing down this greasy food that will ultimately clog my arteries, I observe my bus departing the bus stop. Later I called up my friend and lied that I had a family emergency and couldn't make it to dinner. Then soon after I crash on my couch.

"We are not interested in your Taco Bell adventures, Karan. Give us some moving pictures or we are out" *audience members start getting agitated.

You better sit back in your seats, or this Monarch butterfly will never get to pollinate another flower again.

*audience members gasp and comply immediately.

See, there is no need to be up in arms when we can resolve this conflict amicably.

Sooo, where was I... Yes, the point about the Taco Bell story was that the employee had good intentions but they played a major role in ultimately making me miss my dinner (No, I was not at fault in any way).

These days everyone is or purports to be an eco-warrior. One way they do this is by planting flowers to attract pollinators. But people only want to attract the supermodels of the insect world. Enter Monarch butterflies and the plants that they flock to.

Introducing Tropical Milkweed, the non-native milkweed that will flower during winter when other native milkweed species don't.

Monarch butterflies that come to the San Francisco Bay Area during fall/winter don't go to Mexico as part of their migrations since we get pretty decent Mexican fare in our local taquerias. Instead, after winter they will start heading towards the Rocky Mountains i.e. the states of Utah, Idaho, Nevada before making the journey back in fall.

One of the best places to see these monarch butterflies overwintering is in Santa Cruz, which I paid a visit to during the holidays.

Seeing the tropical milkweed blooming in our backyards during winter gives the Monarch butterfly the same feeling I had when I spotted the Taco Bell. Is the journey even worth it, if the point of my life is in front of me? So they delay or avoid their migrations to the places they were destined to go. In short, the tropical milkweed plants are Taco Bell employees in this story.

Another problem with this species of milkweeds is that since they don't die back in winter, they can harbor spores of a parasite called OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) that can spread from an infected butterfly to the tropical milkweed plant to the Monarch caterpillar to the next Monarch butterfly. These spores can hinder the development of the adult butterflies and can cause them to emerge with defective or deformed wings. Like this one that just had 3 wings instead of the usual 4.

The parasite spores can be identified when you take a sample of the Monarch butterfly scales and look at them under the microscope.

This is what the scales look like if they were not infected with the OE parasite spores.

And this is what the scales look like if they are infected with the OE parasite spores.

And since the tropical milkweeds have been doing brisk businesses in the local nurseries, we have started to find more instances of Monarch Butterflies infected with the OE spores. Here are some unfortunate butterflies who tested positive for the parasite and are being quarantined. Sadly, they will never be allowed to fly in the wild ever again.

Just ask them to wear a mask, I shout.

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