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monarch butterfly

Looking Out for Monarchs

Will the butterfly king come back?

by Bob and Jorja Feldman

From the August, 2014 issue

"The Monarch is undoubtedly the most familiar and widely recognized butterfly in North America." So wrote the author of the Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide, published in 2005. But we saw not a single monarch last year. There were few to be seen here.

The website blames the dramatic decline in monarchs on three factors: bad weather, loss of habitat in mountain areas in Mexico where the butterflies overwinter, and the efficiency of our farmers. Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, and farmers are becoming better at eliminating weeds. Urban development has also hurt.

There are some hopeful signs. Monarchs have been seen locally this year. David Clipner, chief naturalist and wildlife curator at Leslie Science & Nature Center, has been planting milkweed and saw two female monarchs the day after his first planting--and another as we were talking by phone about monarchs.

Leslie has embarked on an educational program about monarchs and their conservation. The first step, Clipner advises, is "plant more milkweed." Monarch Watch provides information about creating Monarch Waystations by planting milkweed and nectar plants, and sells seeds and plants suitable to our region. The local Native Plant Nursery also sells milkweed.

Leslie is a certified waystation. The center is also nurturing monarch caterpillars, with plans to tag and release the butterflies in September, when the then-current crop of adults will be off to the sunny south for the winter.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens is also a certified way station. Our photograph was taken in September 2012 at its Gateway Garden. Michael Palmer, the gardens' horticultural manager, says that's a good place to look, along with the weedy environment around the gardens' front pond. Palmer also recommends the Dow Prairie at Nichols Arboretum.

Michael Hahn, stewardship specialist with the city's Natural Areas Preservation division, points seekers to Gallup Park's butterfly garden, as well as two city parks that have milkweed, Furstenberg on Fuller and the Greenview Nature Area off Scio Church.

County Farm Park, which has plenty

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of milkweed, is another good spot to look for monarchs; like Leslie, it's running a monarch education program this summer. Shawn Severance, county parks naturalist, notes that Michigan is one of the monarchs' major breeding grounds; the butterflies we see in August will most likely be the generation that migrates to Mexico.

If your own neighborhood includes milkweed or other butterfly-friendly flowers, that may be the best place to start a monarch hunt. Roadside edges that haven't been mowed or treated with weed killers, and other weedy or natural areas, are also good places to look.

Butterflies love the sun and like it hot. Many are most active around the middle of the day. So if you want to see butterflies, start looking for them at ten or eleven on a sunny morning. August is a perfect time to get outside in search of monarchs.    (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2014.]


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