A Journey to Mexico
Did you know the third generation of Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in Ontario undertake a spectacular journey in late August, early September, leaving and traveling over 4500K to their sanctuaries in central Mexico to overwinter? The thought of this beautiful, little insect flying that distance is nearly beyond comprehension.
Well, this is just one of the things we learned from Bob at our event last Saturday, Pollinating Gardens and Their Pollinators. Bob taught us about nectar-producing plants that attract pollinators and the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. We also got the opportunity to release 2 butterflies, Poly and Nectarine at the event, watched them feed on the nectar of plants in our pollinating garden and then head off in a south-westerly direction on their long journey. But before I get too far ahead of myself, first let's talk about caterpillars.
During the first and second week of August, we collected 3 caterpillars and placed them in the Monarch castles, feeding them fresh milkweed leaves daily. These castles are specifically designed to harbour the caterpillar and chrysalis in a safe place. The smallest caterpillar, approximately 3/4" grew to 1" and then pupated into its chrysalis, beautiful green colour with small golden dots. We were amazed when this happened on August 18th. The other 2 caterpillars had grown to 2 1/2" before pupating. There was some doubt that this little 'fella' was going to make it. But nature always holds surprises and this little 'fella' was the first to emerge. And what a wonderful gift; it emerged during the event to the delight of all the participates and especially the children.
Polly, the butterfly, just emerging from its chrysalis.
Photo Credit Bob Bowles
With Bob's help Mikka and Kasia transported the butterfly, Poly from the castle to one of our pollinating plants.
Bob's new assistants, Mikka and Kaisa helping the butterfly to find pollen for the first time. We have these 2 little girls to thank for naming the butterflies.
Photo Credit Bob Bowles
These beautiful creatures flit and flutter visiting flowering plants, transferring pollen from one plant to another so that those plants can produce seeds and fruit. Butterflies play a very important role in the ecosystem.
Photo Credit Becky He
Unfortunately, the monarch population is declining to the point that their status is listed as "Special Concern". https://www.ontario.ca/page/monarch
“Special Concern” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
The Ontario website mentioned above states:
The largest threat to Ontario Monarchs is habitat loss and fragmentation at overwintering sites in central Mexico where forests are being logged and converted into agricultural fields and pastures. Widespread pesticide and herbicide use throughout the Monarch’s range may also limit recovery.
We can help the Monarch butterfly in a number of ways by being good stewards of the land, planting native, nectar-producing plants in our own backyards, stopping the use of pesticides and herbicides, and reporting and sharing sightings of eggs, caterpillars and butterflies at http://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch.
We thought we would share a shortlist of native plants for your own backyard gardens. This is just a small sampling. There are over 100 perennial plant species, trees, shrubs, herbs and berries that will potentially attract butterflies.
Meadow Blazingstar (liatris ligulistylis)
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)