The great monarch migration

More monarchs feeding at Rachel Carson! Credit: David Tibbetts

For some, fall means the start of school, football and pumpkin spice latte season — beyond that, it’s also the time monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles from as far north as Canada to overwinter in Mexico. That’s right, these fragile insects can travel up to 5000 miles to their wintering grounds.

It’s a trip that takes several generations to get there, but amazingly, monarchs will winter in the same trees that their (now-distant) ancestor used last winter.

Monarchs feedings at Rachel Carson NWR. Credit: David Tibbetts

Monarchs feeding at Rachel Carson NWR. Credit: David Tibbetts

But there’s a problem. While monarchs aren’t considered endangered, there’s evidence that they might be heading that way. One reason monarchs are failing is that milkweed is disappearing from the American landscape. Scientists blame land-use practices such as farming with crops genetically modified to resist herbicides. The herbicides kill plants such as milkweed that grow around farm fields and have no such protection. Development has also chewed up monarch habitat.  Milkweed is the host plant for monarchs—the lone plant on which the butterflies lay their eggs in spring and the only food source for monarch larvae.

More monarchs feeding at Rachel Carson! Credit: David Tibbetts

More monarchs feeding at Rachel Carson! Credit: David Tibbetts

Knowing that we need more habitat for these creatures, here’s some work that the Service is doing to ensure monarchs have an ample number of milkweed plants:

At Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Resources Office, a summer intern built, planted and maintained a pollinator garden. Educational signage will be going up posthaste.

Lake Champlain's summer intern finishing up the pollinator garden! Credit: USFWS

Lake Champlain’s summer intern finishing up the pollinator garden! Credit: USFWS

At the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, staff built three butterfly gardens to provide more milkweed habitat for monarchs and other butterflies. They also provide numerous opportunities for the public to learn more about these creatures with regular butterfly educational programs that focus on monarchs.

Friends of the 500th, the Friends Group of Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia, is in the process of building a pollinator garden. They’re hoping to spread awareness about the issue of disappearing monarchs.

Here's the start of the Canaan Valley NWR pollinator garden! Credit: USFWS

Here’s the start of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge pollinator garden! Credit: USFWS

At Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, the staff are supporting the monarch migration by planting seaside goldenrod — one of the butterfly’s favorite snacks along the way. In fact, volunteers and organized groups have planted thousands of seaside goldenrod plants in cooperation with The Chincoteague Monarch Monitoring Project for the last 17 years!

If you want to lend a hand in helping the monarch make it to Mexico, try planting milkweed, goldenrod or other plants the insect likes. Find out more here.

Volunteers planting a community pollinator garden in Mashpee! Credit: Friends of Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge

Volunteers planting a community pollinator garden in Mashpee, Massachusetts! Credit: Friends of Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge

3 Comments on “The great monarch migration

  1. Can you help us find out who is leading Monarch preservation efforts in the Northern Nevada area for USFWS? There’s a new partnership with NWF involved….

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