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Monarch Migration

September 5, 2018
By Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

Migration Has Begun For The Monarch Butterfly

Farther north of us, an indication that the migration of the Monarch Butterfly has begun is their overnight roosting. These are the Monarch's with the longest life span. Born in Canada, they must live long enough to make it back to Mexico to begin the cycle again.

As a child, I remember hundreds of Monarch Butterflies on our trees. At the time I was unaware our farm was along their migratory path to and from Mexico. All I knew is that, by shaking a branch, the butterflies would fly in circles around me as you would see on TV. I do recall the feelings as a child of wonder and amazement at the beauty of these small insects.

Last fall, I covered Monarch tagging at the Nature Center near Ruthven. My mind could not grasp an understanding of how a person tags a butterfly. Although the wings are a lot stronger than we give them credit for, I just could not fathom a tag on a butterfly. The only tags I had ever seen were the tags for geese, fish or larger animals but I knew there was no possible way for a tag of this size to fit on a butterfly.

The former Naturalist for Palo Alto County, Miriam Patton, gave the presentation and I learned so much more about Monarch Butterflies than just tagging them.

To start at the beginning, the Monarch is an integral part of our ecosystems. They feed of the nectar of flowers and in turn help to pollinate them in return by carrying pollen on their legs from one plant to the next. Many plants rely on butterflies for pollination to continue their lifespan.

The life span of the Monarch Butterfly is a wonderment of nature. It takes three to four generations to make the trip from Mexico to Canada and back to Mexico. The Monarch Butterflies we see in the spring and summer in Iowa are the third generation and will only live two to five weeks after becoming butterflies.

The Monarch begins its summer migration in the mountains in Mexico flying as far north as northern Mexico to the southern United States. These butterflies will then lay eggs that will become the Monarch Caterpillar. The eggs are not just laid randomly on any plants. The Monarch Butterfly lays its eggs on Milkweed plants. The caterpillars eat only Milkweed to store enough nutrients to become the chrysalis so the metamorphosis into a butterfly can take place. After 10 days a butterfly emerges begins to feed and pollinate plants as it begins the next leg of the migration. This is the butterfly that will make it to Iowa, lay eggs and die. Iowa butterflies make it to the northern United States and southern Canada to lay eggs.

Once the northern Monarchs or fourth generation emerges, instead of dying within two to five weeks, this butterfly makes it back to Mexico and live six to eight months before the entire process begins again.

I think one of the major reasons we do not see Monarch's much around here anymore is that we have sprayed the fields and ditches to the point of almost completely eliminating the plant from the area. This is sad because future generations may never be able to experience the feeling of wonder and amazement the endurance of this small creature that shares our world.



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