Earth Matters by Jacqueline Milner – The Majesty of the Monarch Butterfly – September 14, 2011

CFN –The Monarch Butterfly.  Isn’t it a display that delights the eyes and heart?  Bright, beautiful bursts of orange, black and white, the Monarch can instantly deposit smiles on children, adults and dogs.  Oh yes, I mention the dog part because when my beautiful Molly was a puppy she would jump and buck with absolute delight when she encountered butterflies in the fields on her daily jaunts.According to information published by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), our beautiful Monarch is “at risk”.  The Royal Ontario Museum website lists this winged wonder as a species of “special concern provincially and nationally”.  The Monarch Butterfly can be found throughout Ontario in areas that have Milkweed plants for its caterpillars and wild flowers for a nectar source.  Just yesterday Molly and I encountered two beautiful specimens stopping for a snack on some wild clover blossoms growing in the back field.  It seems the butterfly in the image below might have recently emerged from its cocoon as its wings hadn’t had the chance to fully straighten yet.  This didn’t seem to hamper its flying ability as I followed it from bloom to bloom in hopes that it would stop long enough to capture an image.

The challenges faced by the Monarch are the “decline and disturbance of the over wintering sites in Mexico and the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides in Ontario”.  There is no formal protection for the Monarch in Ontario however three key areas have been identified to protect this species.  Milkweed, the larval food plant needs to be taken off of the noxious weed list.  This is a plant necessary and vital to the life cycle of the Monarch.  Native wildflower habitat needs to be protected and encouraged for this and many other species (such as our honey bees) and lastly, migration stopover sites need to be protected from logging and disturbance.  WWF is presently collaborating with a multitude of partners to incorporate approaches to protect and restore the Monarch’s wintering habitat.

Of all the migrations by small creatures in the world, few are as astounding as that achieved by the Monarch Butterfly.  These tiny, light weight, winged flyers of orange travel around 4,500 kilometers between their starting and end points.  What is even more fascinating is that they have never flown this route before.  These are the great-great-great-grandchildren of Monarchs which migrated back from Mexico the previous spring.  Wow!  They are guided to wintering grounds by the sun’s orbit and their own internal biological compass.

Each adult butterfly lives about four to five weeks.  During the summer however the Monarchs give birth to a unique “Methuselah generation”.  This unique generation of Monarchs will live for seven to eight months and it is this generation of butterflies who are created to make the arduous journey of flying from Canada and the United States to their wintering habitat in Mexico.

So what can we do to help?  Preserve native wildflower patches in and around your schools, properties, cities and counties.  Consider planting a native wildflower garden for the benefit of our beautiful bees and butterflies.  Think about including some milkweed specifically for the Monarch caterpillar.  Lastly, please consider, just saying “no” to using any product which ends in the letters “cide”.

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