Keeping the Monarch on the Throne

A Monarch caterpillar grows larger with every bite of milkweed! Photo: Alida Lemieux

To many inhabitants of Ontario, the Monarch is king of the butterflies! Its regal, black-and-orange wings wow butterfly watchers with their beauty, and warn would-be predators of their toxicity. Its staggering migration to Mexico humbles us and inspires awe. Despite its strengths though, the Monarch’s reign is wavering. Listed as a species of Special Concern in Ontario, its population has declined significantly since the 1990s. Leading causes include pesticide use and subsequent loss of milkweed (the Monarch caterpillars’ sole food-plant), as well as intensive logging and wood harvesting in the Oyamel Fir Forests of Mexico.

While it is tough to control what goes on in the Monarch’s winter home, we have the power to affect positive change at home in Wasaga Beach. Southern Ontario is identified as a primary management area for Monarchs thanks to plenty of available breeding habitat and migration staging areas along the Great Lakes. Wasaga Beach Provincial Park is taking important steps to bring back our Monarchs, and you can help us too!

Tagged Monarch. Photo: Marilyn Beecroft

Tagged Monarch. Photo: Marilyn Beecroft

Raising, Tagging and Releasing Monarchs…for Education and for Science

Usually several generations of Monarchs complete their life cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly in a given season at Wasaga Beach. The earlier generations typically live for several weeks as adults, while the late summer or early fall Monarchs can live for many months! It is these “late bloomers” that generally complete the journey south, up to as far as Mexico. Every year park naturalists raise, tag and release several Monarchs from this generation in the interests of education and research. The tag, a small coded sticker attached to the butterfly’s wing, allows researchers to track an individual Monarch’s migration pattern, and learn more about how these small insects make such long journeys. To find out more about Monarch tagging, visit http://www.monarchwatch.org. Though it can be tricky to time, naturalists often attempt to involve local children in releasing Monarchs. This summer, Jr. Naturalist program participants were lucky enough to watch a new butterfly emerge from its chrysalis during a children’s program at the Wasaga Nordic and Trail Centre!

 

Butterfly Weed is an attractive food-plant for Monarchs, young and old! Photo: Rachel Barrington

Butterfly Weed is an attractive food-plant for Monarchs, young and old! Photo: Rachel Barrington

Monarch Way-stations… and Your Own Monarch-friendly Garden

Our park is working with the Town of Wasaga Beach to convert 10% of town gardens to monarch habitat! That means replacing non-native cultivars with beautiful, native nectar plants such as Wild Columbine and Lance-leaved Coreopsis to feed adult Monarchs, and adding in milkweeds for them to lay their eggs on. Milkweed, with its toxic, white sap may be distasteful to most, but it’s mother’s milk to a Monarch caterpillar. Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Weed (another kind of milkweed) are necessary food-plants for these youngsters, who build up the toxins in their own tissues. And despite the name, “weed”, milkweeds are native – and attractive – plants that grow naturally in Wasaga Beach and are also easy to cultivate. Pick up some free pods at the park office to start your own Monarch-friendly garden!

Park Naturalists maintain a Monarch Way-station (that is, a butterfly-friendly salad bar/breeding ground/nursery/rest-stop registered with Monarch Watch) on park property too, at Schoonertown Heritage Site. Take a stroll through the garden to learn about more native plants that you can add to your butterfly garden next spring! Hopefully your visit will be rewarded with some early fall butterfly encounters too.

For more information about Monarchs and how you can help Wasaga Beach Provincial Park improve Monarch habitat, contact the Park Office at 705 429 2516, or drop in to pick up our Monarch rack card. Together we can restore Wasaga Beach to an oasis for our black-and-orange king.

Long live the Monarch!

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