King of the butterflies
Many people consider monarch butterflies to be the most beautiful of all butterflies, which is why they are considered the “king” of the butterflies, hence the name monarch.
What’s the big deal about Monarch Butterflies?
They are the only butterfly known to migrate. To avoid cold winters in North America, the entire population — hundreds of millions of monarchs — flies together thousand of miles to reach warmer climates. They fly to a handful of sites in Mexico where the temperature and humidity are just right for them to cluster together and keep warm.
In our region, we usually see monarch butterflies between October and November when they migrate from Canada to their wintering grounds in Mexico.
Monarchs are in trouble!
The numbers of eastern Monarchs have plummeted over the past few decades and biologists are concerned they may be facing extinction. Why? There are many suspects, including loss of host plants, destruction of habitat, climate change, and increased pesticide use. While any one of these factors could be problematic, taken together they may spell doom for Monarchs.
You Can Help
The Monarch Watch Tagging Program is a large-scale citizen science project that was initiated in 1992 to help understand the dynamics of the monarch’s spectacular fall migration through mark and recapture. Several years ago, South Cove County Park became a monarch way station and began tagging monarchs on their way to Mexico. They now teach local residents how to tag monarchs, and create butterfly way stations on their own properties.
Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants. They lay their eggs on the plant because it is the only food the monarch caterpillars eat. Native prairie habitat, where milkweed typically grows, has disappeared to pave the way for urban growth. But it’s not hopeless! People can give monarchs a boost by planting milkweed in their yards or on their property. Several colorful varieties can be grown to provide monarch caterpillars with the food source they must have to survive.
There’s no doubt about it, monarch butterflies (and caterpillars) are amazing! And we can help save them from extinction.