So you planted your milkweed in the spring and waited. And waited. And waited. Well it’s finally here – it’s monarch migration time! All those monarch butterflies who benefitted from your milkweed planting (they’re the only plants on which monarchs lay eggs, and the cardiac glycosides in the plants are what make monarchs poisonous to birds) are now headed south. (Photo credit Jorja Feldman)
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a fascinating creature. In the eastern half of the U.S. (there’s also a western population) we watch all summer as the monarch leaves its wintering grounds in the Mexican mountains and begins a migration north to the Great Lakes and New England and then south again toward Mexico. What makes this migration especially fascinating is the fact that it isn’t just one individual doing the migrating – it’s a series of 4 to 5 adult butterflies conducting a relay!
Monarchs are currently threatened in several ways: development both in the U.S. and in their wintering grounds in Mexico; GMO crops that could affect the butterflies; roadside management using herbicides which kill plants including those needed by the monarchs. There are several ways you can learn more about monarchs and help them on their journey:
- Create a Monarch Waystation! Plant LOTS of milkweed and nectar plants in your yard. It’ll provide habitat where female monarchs can lay eggs.
- Try tagging monarchs! It’s a fun way to learn more about the monarchs and their migration.
- Read about the migration! Four Wings and a Prayer, by Sue Halpern is a great book about the migration.
- Support Monarch Watch! This organization helps to educate the public, support research, and protect the habitat of monarch butterflies.