Thursday, August 20, 2015

the Amazing Monarch

Monarch butterfly on Milkweed at Lake Erie Bluffs - photo by greennite

By Tom Koritansky, Natural Resource Manager

Monarchs are part of a group of butterflies known as milkweed butterflies that lay their eggs exclusively on various species of milkweed upon which young caterpillars feed, grow and develop. Monarchs serve a vital function in our planet’s ecology by pollinating many plants in their search for nectar.

Milkweeds are perennial plants. During the summer and into fall, these plants produce showy flowers in various shades of pink and are an excellent source of nectar for many pollinating insects. Milkweed can be found growing in dry upland meadows and old fields, open floodplains and along the edges of ponds, lakes and streams. Besides being the only food source for caterpillars, milkweed also gives developing monarchs protection from predators.

Milkweed contains chemicals known as cardenolides that when ingested give caterpillars a bitter taste. The protective chemistry provided by feeding on milkweed and their bright coloration serves as a warning to predators to stay away. Monarchs migrate south from Northeast Ohio to Mexico in late August. Each year, the voyage becomes more difficult as natural areas that once served as breeding grounds and stopover sites rich in milkweed are removed from the landscape because of land use changes. This loss has contributed to a noticeable decline in monarch populations. Without its milkweed host plant, monarchs cannot successfully reproduce, and without a plentiful food supply rich in flowering plants, all migrants are not able to complete their journey.

Natural areas within Lake Metroparks that contain a variety of wildflowers are incredibly important for the monarch’s survival. Large open meadows with great varieties of flowering plants like those at Hidden Lake in Leroy Township, Skok Meadow at Girdled Road Reservation in Concord Township and Penitentiary Glen Reservation in Kirtland are ideal locations for monarchs to stop and feed along their journey. Earlier this year, Lake Metroparks’ natural resources staff planted milkweed in several plots at Lake Erie Bluffs, Lakeshore Reservation and Penitentiary Glen Reservation as a way to encourage breeding habitat for monarchs in those parks.

By planting milkweed and conserving butterfly-friendly habitat, we can all do our part to help save monarchs.

Click here to learn more about Wildlife Management by Lake Metroparks.

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