Updated: Apr 10
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It is that time of year again,
when summer days get shorter and begin to take on a golden hue...fading into Autumn. The air becomes crisp, and the warm smell of summer sunshine and breeze dwindles into the damp decay of Autumn leaves, pumpkin spice, and smokey bonfires.
It is also a time to say farewell to many of our small friends. Small friends like the Monarch butterfly for instance, who right now, is frantically feeding on the last droplets of nectar from summer flowers, building up strength in preparation for the long journey to the firs of Michoacan, Mexico.
In honor of this great migration to overwinter in warmer weather, we had a photo shoot! Check it out:
Our Pollinator Friends Need Help...
Within 20 years, according to a 2017 study published in the Biological Conservation journal, scientists believe that Monarch butterflies will be extinct.
The Monarch population has been steadily declining over the years. The news of their possible extinction is devastating, and very sobering. Monarchs are one of our pollinators, who help in the growth of our food. We need to find ways to live symbiotically with them, while we still can.
According the the Xerces Society (non-profit environmental conservation organization), major causes of Monarch decline can be attributed to the following:
Pesticide and herbicide use.
More severe and frequent droughts due to climate change.
What Can You Do to Help?
Tracking the monarchs:
Become a "Citizen Scientist" and Tag some Monarchs!
A few years ago we learned about a citizen scientist project tagging Monarchs through our local Conservation District office. Tagging involves placing a tiny coded sticker on the butterfly, and then releasing it to finish its migration. Upon reaching its destination, the Monarch is recaptured and the code is retrieved and recorded.
How does this help?
This helps us keep track of how Monarch health is doing, which reflects upon how our environment is doing. Through tracking we monitor Monarch numbers, flight distance, weather patterns, and more. It also tells us where the Monarch originated from, and how far its flown.
Monarch Joint Venture states:
"Citizen scientists record the date, location, monarch gender, and unique tag number for each fall-migrating monarch that they tag and then submit these data to be used in research. The tags and tagging process do not harm the butterflies, and the data collected have the potential to answer many important questions about monarch biology and conservation."
The following resources have some great information about tagging Monarchs. Click below if you want to learn more. You can also call your local Conservation office for more information.
Monarch Butterfly, Michigan DNR
Live Symbiotically with the Monarchs:
Stop Herbicide and Pesticide Use. Promote habitat regrowth.
Pesticides wipe out the monarch butterfly and caterpillar itself, while herbicides aim to prevent milkweed growth, thereby destroying monarch habitat. Milkweed is imperative to the survival of the monarch; it is home and food.
Promote the growth of milkweed varieties, along with practicing safe ways to deter pest insects, and weeds in the garden. The Xerces Society has some great information on the use of such pesticides in gardening, and agricultural practices.
Feed the Monarchs:
Before you can feed them...
you need to attract them. Happy DIY Home as some great ideas on how to attract butterflies by creating a Butterfly Garden. I was so inspired by their post, that I made plans to create my own butterfly garden this year...complete with some cute Butterfly houses to accompany my bug hotel! Thanks for the tips Happy DIY Home!
What to Plant:
Milkweed propagation is important because it remains the sole food for Monarch caterpillars. Without healthy caterpillars, the Monarch butterfly would not exist. One of the big threats against the Monarch is habitat loss, and the decline of food...so make sure to plant milkweed (...or don't let your aunt pull it out, thinking she is doing you a favor weeding your garden! Another story, another time.)
Create a colorful way-station by planting nectar filled flowers, so that these mighty pollinators can fill up before egg laying, or starting on their long migration in the fall.
Fortunately, the Monarch butterfly has a much more diverse appetite. There are several flowers that will attract the hungry butterfly, and provide nourishment. Cosmos, Lilac, Zinnia, Butterfly bush, milkweed, goldenrod, and Maximilian Sunflower are just a few. (We have had great success with monarchs and sunflowers this year!)
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has some great info on what to plant, when, and in what order to help the monarchs!