DESCRIPTION OF THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY
Monarch butterflies are a striking color of orange and black butterfly with small white spots. These butterflies are relatively large with a wingspan reaching 93-105 millimetres. Males, like the one pictured, have a tiny black dot on the middle vein of their hindwing. Although most adult Monarchs only live for about four to five weeks, individuals that metamorphose into butterflies during autumn can live for seven to eight months. It is this generation that migrates south for the Canadian winter
The Monarch’s caterpillar is easily recognized: It has black, white and yellow stripes and can be found feeding on milkweed plants. After their feeding and growth stage, the Monarch caterpillar moults into a striking jade-coloured chrysalis with golden spots.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE AND FLY?
Monarch’s locations extends from Central America to southern Canada. In Canada, Monarchs are most abundant in southern Ontario and Quebec where milkweed plants and breeding habitat are widespread. During late summer and fall, Monarchs from Ontario migrate to central Mexico where they stay over the winter season. During migration, groups of Monarchs numbering in the thousands can be seen along the north shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
Monarch caterpillars feed only on milkweed plants and are confined to meadows and open areas where milkweed grows. Adult butterflies feed on nectar from a variety of wildflowers. Monarchs spend the winter in Oyamel Fir forests found in central Mexico.
In the fall, Monarchs travel up to 3,000 kilometres between breeding grounds in eastern North America and overwintering sites in central Mexico. Some Monarchs can travel an astonishing 80 kilometres in a single day
WHAT ARE THE THREATS?
The largest threat for Ontario Monarch is that their habitat is being lost mainly due to pesticide and herbicide use limiting or extinguishing their precious milkweed plants. The forests of the overwintering sites in central Mexico are being logged to provide agricultural fields and pastures.
The Globe and Mail, published Jan 29, 2014 released that the latest count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico suggests the insect’s North American migratory population has hit a new low and may be at risk of disappearing altogether.
The dire forecast is based on the the amount of Mexican woodland occupied by the orange-and-black butterfly during its annual hibernation. In December, that space shrank to a mere two-thirds of a hectare, an area not much larger than a football field and 44 per cent smaller than that inhabited by monarchs during the previous winter. In an average year, Mexico sees 350 million Monarchs, this last season saw 60 Million, a difference of 80% drop in numbers! according to an official count by the World Wildlife Fund and the Mexican government. Those numbers – the lowest in 20 years of recorded history – have experts wondering if, and how, monarchs can bounce back from this significant decline in their population.
This long overdue proposal would remove milkweed spp. (scientific name Asclepias spp.) from the Schedule of Noxious Weeds in the Regulation. Milkweed is an essential food for monarch butterflies, whose population has crashed in recent years. Removing milkweed from the Schedule will allow it to be planted widely, for example in gardens, on road verges, and railway and powerline rights of way, as conservation groups are encouraging people to do.
ARE THEY PROTECTED?
YES! The Monarch is a special concern species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Three key management strategies have been identified to protect the Monarch Butterfly. Milkweeds, the larval foodplant, should be taken out of the noxious weed acts in Canada; native wildflower habitat should be protected and encouraged; and migration stopover sites should be protected from disturbance. For information on recovery initiatives for the Monarch Butterfly in Ontario, visit the Hinterland Who’s Who website.
WHY DO MONARCHS MIGRATE SOUTH?
The monarch is unique among North American butterflies in performing an annual two-way migration in vast numbers from one area of the continent to another. Probably no other insect among the millions of species on earth performs a similar migration. Scientists still have much to learn about how individual monarchs are able to return each year to overwintering sites and breeding grounds they have never seen. The many millions of monarchs blanketing forested mountain slopes in Mexico is a spectacle of tremendous natural beauty and a unique phenomenon produced nowhere else on earth.
Great care and effort is used to be sure that ALL butterflies from my collections are created using naturally expired, farmed specimens. On occasion, expired insects are found by myself, the owner and artist of Debra’s Divine Designs, or gifted by friends or clients who have found a naturally expired specimen. I do not profit from Monarch butterfly creations, but rather donate the funds to programs such as MonarchWatch.org. I do respect the artistic need to preserve these beautiful butterflies to share with future generations, who sadly, may never see a real one fly. When find an expired Monarch, it breaks my heart, but also gives me that opportunity to respectfully preserve him or her. Here is a recent preservation piece.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP THE MONARCHS
- The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Monarch. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
- Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
- Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
- Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
- There is a program geared to eligible farms registered under the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan to encourage greater protection and conservation of habitat for species at risk. For more information, visit: www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/environment/efp/efp.htm.
- Populations of many insects that pollinate plants are declining around the world. For information on how you can easily give insect pollinators a helping hand visit: www.seeds.ca/proj/poll.
- Journey North is an online project that tracks the migration of Monarchs. Classrooms can participate by sharing their sightings at: www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch.
- Pesticides can be harmful to Monarch habitat. To learn how to keep your lawn and garden healthy and green without using pesticides visit: www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment/en/category/pesticides/STDPROD_085338.html.