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Hand-Raising Monarch Butterflies

September 19, 2019

By Tonya Morgan, Office Administrator, SGBCHC

When I heard that we were at risk of losing Monarch butterflies, I knew I had to do something to help. It is estimated that the Monarch’s population has dropped almost 90 per cent in the past 20 years, due to the destruction of milkweed plants, habitat loss, and climate change. Although I have always been amazed by these fascinating creatures, I didn’t fully understand their complex life cycle and migration. After much research I started by creating a butterfly garden which included milkweed and native flowering plants to attract them to my yard.

It wasn’t until I learned that a staggering 99 per cent of monarch eggs and caterpillars do not survive to become adult butterflies, that I decided to take things into my own hands (literally) and started hand-raising all the Monarch eggs and caterpillars I could find. Over the past seven summers, I have successfully raised and released hundreds of butterflies. After all these years, I still can’t believe what an amazing phenomena I get to be a part of, and I am in complete awe of the magic of it all. It has been such a rewarding experience that I now share with my family, friends, coworkers, and neighbours.

This year, for the first time, I purchased monarch tags from ‘Monarch Watch’, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of monarch’s and their habitats. I tagged 50 butterflies in late August, before they made their way to Mexico. There is still so much to learn about the monarch’s biology and physiology that allows them to navigate over 5,000 kilometres to the exact location their great-grandparents migrated to a year prior. The more we know, the better chance we have to protect and conserve this natural wonder.

The most impressive fact about these incredible insects is this epic annual migration. The migration cycle takes four generations of monarchs to complete, and in Canada, we get to enjoy the third and fourth generations. The fourth generation is also known as the ‘super generation’, because in late August they travel over 5,000 kilometres south to a place they have never been before. These butterflies spend the winter in Mexico and live an incredible six to eight months. In the spring they mate and start the migration north by laying their eggs on milkweed in northern Mexico and southern Unites States. The next three generations have a very different life from their parents, as they only live between four to six weeks, which is long enough to mate and lay more eggs as they make their way north.

Let’s all do our part to save the Monarch butterflies

I feel I have seen more monarch butterflies this year, and I am so happy to see that more and more people are planting or letting milkweed grow in their gardens and yards. Milkweed is essential to the monarch’s survival because it is the only plant the Monarchs will lay their eggs in, and the caterpillars spend their entire life (2 weeks) eating the plant. The heavy use of pesticides and development have almost wiped out the milkweed population throughout much of the US and Canada. I believe awareness and education are key to saving the Monarchs, and everyone can do their part! Start by planting milkweed, and native flowering plants, create more green grassland spaces, and stop using harmful pesticides and herbicides. Or stop by the South Georgian Bay Community Health Centre and I would be happy to answer any questions you have!

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