Monarchs on the move

Published 8:56 am Friday, September 13, 2013

Monarch 3

By Terri Gordon

The mighty Monarch butterfly is on the move. Each year, in late summer and early fall, swarms of Monarch butterflies leave their birthplaces throughout the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains (Monarchs west of the Rockies winter in California.) and head south. Eventually, they will cross the Gulf of Mexico for the pine forests of Mexico where the species has hibernated for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
How the bugs do it is a marvel–and somewhat of a mystery. It is a wonder the delicate creatures survive the arduous journey–and how they know the way to a place they’ve never been still isn’t completely understood.
School groups, nature centers, and butterfly experts alike have teamed up to track the butterflies’ movements and help them along their way.
On Sunday, September 15, local authority Kim Pozivilko will conduct a seminar at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve to explain the Monarch’s life cycle, migration, and continued challenge as its habitats disappear.
“In the program, Kim [Pozivilko] will talk about how to put in a butterfly garden,” said Fernwood naturalist Wendy Jones. “how to raise Monarchs, how to tag them, and about the project called Monarch Watch.”
Based at the University of Kansas, Monarch Watch uses “citizen scientists” to conduct Monarch research. They promote conservation of butterfly habitat and educate the public to the Monarch’s plight.
“Scientists have seen declines in Monarch populations over the last, probably, five years,” said Jones. “Their numbers are declining for many reasons. One is loss of habitat.
“Milkweed likes to grow along the edges of fields, or roadsides, and farmers are not maintaining those edges anymore. They are getting mowed down, or they’re planting corn farther into the field, and they don’t have that edge anymore.”
Some people think the rise of genetically modified crops–modified to resist herbicides–has led to greater use of herbicides, and that milkweed is part of the “collateral damage.”
And, the Monarch butterfly is being challenged for habitat on two fronts. In North America, the milkweed it lays its eggs on, and that nourishes its larvae, is disappearing. In Mexico, the pine forests that protect the butterflies from winter are being lost to logging.
“The removal of trees is also changing that micro-climate,” said Jones. “So even those trees left standing for the Monarchs aren’t the right temperature. They don’t have the right insulation factor, so they’re dying. Then you have fewer Monarchs to come back to North America the next season.”
Tagging the butterflies is done with a small sticker (provided by Monarch watch). Each sticker has an identification number. It is hoped the data collected will help track migration routes and identify milkweed habitats.
The Monarch tagging program is perfect for the whole family. It runs from 2:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. There is a nominal fee for the workshop, though children 8 years old and under are free. For more information, folks can contact Fernwood.