Green Tips: What to know about monarch butterflies

Green Tips | March 8, 2019

Green Tips: What to know about monarch butterflies

Did you know that March 14th is National Learn About Butterflies Day? Monarchs are one of the most commonly recognized butterflies in the U.S. and an important pollinator species. Did you know:

  • The North American monarch butterfly is a migratory insect and the only butterfly observed to make such a large migration, almost 3,000 miles! Each spring, monarchs begin their trip north from Mexico, making their way up through Texas and Oklahoma, continuing north into Canada.
  • Monarchs’ main source of food is the milkweed. It gives them all the nourishment they need and they can typically be seen hanging out on the plant. Want to see more monarchs in your backyard? Plant some milkweed!
  • Monarchs are especially sensitive to cool weather. In fact, according to the Defenders of Wildlife, they cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees. They sit in the sun or “shiver” their wings to warm up.
  • Because they are so sensitive to temperature, one of the biggest threats facing monarchs is climate change. Their population has declined drastically the past 20 years, diminishing by almost 95 percent. Part of the reason for this is that warmer Fall temperatures in the north delay monarchs from beginning their journey south. By the time it’s cool enough to trigger their migration, it quickly gets too harsh and many monarchs die along the journey.
  • Another related threat facing butterflies is habitat loss. As we mentioned, monarch butterflies and caterpillars rely on the milkweed for food and shelter. Due to our changing climate and a major increase in herbicide applications, especially in the Mid-West Corn Belt, monarchs have less food and shelter along their journey.
  • Despite these worries, there is much to look forward to. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act. This petition has yielded the creation of a conservation database and the publication of several peer-reviewed research articles on the monarch. An official decision on their status as endangered is due in June 2019. Learn more here.

To do your part, here are some ways you can help monarch butterflies this Spring:

  1. Plant a butterfly garden, including milkweed, red clover, alfalfa, thistle, wild carrot, lilacs and goldenrods.
  2. Avoid the use of pesticides.
  3. Create or support a Monarch Way-Station.

Would you like to see some monarchs in person? Here are some options in New York State courtesy of the Department of Environmental Conservation:

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