Nature is great at providing moments of wonder, and in The Parklands, we are getting a front row seat to the transformation and migration of the monarch butterfly! This important pollinator species is endangered, and we at The Parklands are doing our part to change that! We actively support this species’ ability to thrive with the enhancement and protection of our meadow habitat that is specifically designed to attract and feed monarch butterflies.
Monarch caterpillars and eggs can only be found on one type of plant- the milkweed plant. Milkweed is the only host plant for these caterpillars and the only place an adult Monarch will lay her eggs. Monarch eggs are laid directly on milkweed leaves so the newly hatched caterpillars can begin chomping away immediately.
Monarch’s go through four phases in their lifetime; eggs, caterpillar, pupa, and butterfly. Butterflies in of these phases can be seen in our gardens and meadows right now. When the caterpillars grow large enough, they usually crawl away from the host plant to a more covered area to make their chrysalis. The entire process from egg to adult takes about 4 weeks. When these butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, they will be part of a great migration from Canada to Mexico spanning over four generations.
Unfortunately, the monarch population has declined by about 90% in the last two decades, and we want to do everything we can to help protect them so they can thrive once again. This population decline is largely due to drought, habitat loss and pesticides so protecting these monarchs and planting more of their host plant is integral to their survival.
At The Parklands, we are protecting and learning about monarchs by maintaining healthy meadows and by participating in the Monarch Watch citizen science program and tagging our monarchs. The Monarch Watch Tagging Program began in 1992 to help better understand the dynamics of the monarchs’ spectacular fall migration through mark and recapture. Tagging helps answer questions about the origins of monarchs that reach Mexico, the timing and pace of the migration, mortality during the migration, and changes in geographic distribution. It also shows that the probability of reaching Mexico is related to geographic location and size of the butterfly.
To track monarchs, a tag is placed on each monarch butterfly caught during the migratory season. This small sticker-like tag is lightweight and specifically designed to not interfere with the migration of the butterfly. Each tag has a unique code, that can then be looked up to find out more information about each butterfly when they are retrieved in Mexico at their overwintering sites.
In early October, Parklands volunteers and members will be out in our meadows catching and tagging monarchs. This is an annual member and volunteer program that is full for this year so mark your calendars for next fall to get in on the action!
In the meantime, stop by the education garden in the back of the PNC center in Beckley Creek Park or any of our meadows throughout The Parklands including the Grand Allee, Prairie Preserve, and Seaton Valley to see this amazing species up close!