Monarchs, Milkweed & Michigan

Monarch with Red Mulch Background by Charles Bonham

Monarch with Red Mulch Background by Charles Bonham

The GT Pulse has an in-depth interview with Cyndie Roach if the GT Butterfly House and Zoo in Williamsburg outlining the generation spanning migration of the monarch butterfly from the Oyamel fir forests of Mexico to Michigan:

…They fly over the Gulf with their first stop being in the Texas panhandle area.

“They land there, take a break, and breed by the millions, lay eggs, and then they die. That super generation has lived all winter and is now ready to make that trip to Texas. So that first generation born in the United States will know to start flying north when they’re born.”

The entire butterfly birthing process takes 30 days. Part of the inherent will to go north has to do with milkweed. It’s the plant that signals them home.

“It’s the single host plant, meaning the caterpillar needs to eat it to become a butterfly. They’re looking for milkweed to lay their eggs on. We don’t even have Milkweed growing yet in the early parts of spring. It doesn’t come up until May and June, so what’s great is that as our spring comes on and things start to get warmer, that’s what’s welcoming the monarch to the area.”

The second generation of monarchs that were born in Texas makes it to the midline of the States, roughly around the Rocky Mountains where their babies will be born, and like their parents and grandparents before them – they’ll know to keep flying north.

“By the time they reach us we’re looking at the third generation typically. So it’s their grandchildren we’re now seeing arrive in Michigan.”

Remember that milkweed Cyndie was talking about? Northern Michigan provides milkweed that some of those third-generation monarchs will use to lay their own eggs. So the butterflies that are going back down to Mexico are the fourth generation of those first butterflies coming from the Oyamel fir forests.

“That’s why it’s so important that we as Michiganders, specifically up here in Northern Michigan, provide as much milkweed habitat as we can for these amazing creatures. We play such an important role, because not only are we the ones who see them come in in the spring, but we help them create a lifecycle.”

Milkweed plays an important role in aiding the monarchs in their generational journey, but also, being cautious with fertilizer and lawn care products. The monarch butterfly population has declined 90 percent over the past two decades, which is directly related to the milkweed population being destroyed.

Read on for lots more, check out the Michigan DNR page on Monarch butterflies & for sure plant milkweed if you can!

Charles took this last week. Head over to his Flickr for lots more!

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Monarch & Sunflower

IMG_3378 (3) Monarch on sunflower
Monarch on sunflower, photo by jgagnon63@yahoo.com

The Michigan DNR page on Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) says:

Often called the Milkweed Butterfly, this large black veined orange winged butterfly can be observed feeding on milkweed. During its mating behavior, the adult male monarch will display a “courtship dance.” Perching on the tips of the milkweed, it will fly to other large butterflies to see if one is a female monarch; if it is, they will fly together in a fast, darting flight, lasting up to a minute and covering many yards and to a height of 100 feet.

As fall approaches, the monarchs can be seen in large numbers migrating along the Great Lakes shorelines enroute to Mexico and Central America.

Monarch butterfly populations have been declining in Michigan for the last decade, and it appears that last winter was another tough blow for this beleaguered beauty. You can learn a lot more about Monarch butterflies and how to help protect them at Monarch Watch.

View jgagnon’s photo background bigalicious and see more in his slideshow.