One of the most amazing migrations is occurring right now! During the month of September monarch butterflies embark on one of the longest migrations of all of the butterflies, traveling from Canada to Mexico (2,000 - 3,000 miles). Because the distance is so great they depend highly on nectar corridors for food and rest. Cleveland just so happens to be one of these rest stops.
All month monarchs by the thousands have been flying across Lake Erie from Canada, which means 30 miles with no stops over open water for a little butterfly. This is why our lakeshore parks/habitats are so important, not only for monarchs but for many other migratory species as well. Over the last few weeks thousands of monarchs were spotted at Wendy Park at Whiskey Island, at Wildwood Park in Euclid Creek Reservation, and throughout residential areas along the lake. They were observed feeding on nectar from native plants, flitting around, and resting in clusters in the trees.
Unfortunately, these types of necessary rest stops along their route are becoming fewer and farther apart due to habitat loss from development. As a result the monarch populations are suffering, dropping nearly 80% in the last 15 years according to one resource . I remember growing up seeing them all over the place, now I only see a few here and there each year. These pollinators, like others, impact so much. For example, they pollinate wildflowers and other plants and provide a food source for various types of wildlife, though toxic to some.
So what can we do to help these beautiful little guys? You can plant a butterfly garden or just a few butterfly friendly native plants in your yard. Common milkweed is a plant of particular importance for the spring migration as the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren of these butterflies make the journey back towards Canada. Yup, it takes 4 - 5 generations of monarchs to make the round trip, one south and the rest back to the north. Common milkweed is so important because it is one of the only plants that monarchs lay their eggs on. Monarchs will lay on other types of milkwee, but Common milkweed seems to be preferred. Common milkweed not only provides a good food source, the sap that is toxic to most other critters, including us, makes the monarchs (caterpillars and adults) very bitter tasting and toxic to most predators. This nasty taste will cause a predator to drop them or spit them out, thus saving the life of the monarch. The ingestion of the common milkweed sap is also what gives monarchs their unique coloring. Many insects that feed on common milkweed sap share this red-orange coloring.
Another thing you can do is drop off common milkweed pods at a pod collection station near you from September 1 - October 31. Ohio Soil & Water Conservation Districts and Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative have joined forces to help create more habitats for breeding monarchs throughout Ohio. The catch is you can't just go picking common milkweed pods; the timing has to be just right. You need to wait until they are drying out, turning brown, and just starting to pop open. If the pods are still green and closed up it is too soon and the seeds will not germinate. So far the program has been very successful in collecting approximately 5,000 gallons of milkweed pods! So stop by our office at 3311 Perkins Avenue in Cleveland and drop off some common milkweed pods. You can drop them off in the office or in the container next to the garage on the west side of the building. For more locations and information on pod collection and native plants check out our website.
Let's give these amazing little guys a big helping hand along their incredible journey. And as always, remember everything we do impacts something else, we are all connected.
Blog Author: Kelly Parker, Stormwater Specialist