Marlinton/White Sulphur District Ranger’s August, Report -Part 2, Monarch Butterflies
In Part 1 of this story about the amazing Monarch Butterfly, District Ranger Cindy Sandeno described the metamorphous of the Monarch from larva to adulthood. In today’s report, she describes the seemingly impossible yearly migration of Monarchs from here to Mexico.
By District Ranger Cindy Sandeno
“Unlike a lot of insects we have here in West Virginia, Monarch Butterflies can’t survive a long, cold winter, so they have to find a warmer place to live. Now this time of year, when monarchs emerge from their pupa , they are very different from the ones that you see in the summer. They look similar, but they have a very different task in mind. The shorter days and the cooler air of late summer triggers these changes. So even though they look the same as their summer counterparts, they don’t lay eggs, in fact they start preparing their small bodies for a very strenuous flight and they do this by eating. They have to store fat, and that fat is not only to fuel this flight of three thousand miles, but they also have to last until the next spring when they begin their flight back North. So as they migrate southwards they do stop to sip nectar from flowers and they may actually gain weight from this trip. The annual migration of our West Virginia monarch Butterflies is really unique and amazing. The Monarch is the only butterfly that is known to make a two way migration, similar to what birds do. They use environmental cues so that they know what time to travel and how to go south, but we don’t really know how they find their wintering grounds because these are butterflies that have never been there before.
Monarchs roost for the winter in conifer forests at an elevation of about twenty-five hundred to thirty six hundred meters, and it’s a place that stays nice and warm so that they do not use up their fat and the humidity in the forest makes sure that they won’t dry out as they make it through their wintertime. And amazingly, Monarchs which typically hang out alone end up flying back in masses to the winter roost. As warm temperatures and lengthening days arrive, the monarchs finally reproduce. And in the spring they finally start to make their journey up north, but our super generation of Monarchs will never make it to West Virginia. They’ll lay their first eggs and those eggs will go through the transformation and they will live to be about three to five weeks old before they continue north and lay the next round of eggs. And eventually the great grand children or the great, great grand children of out super generation will make it here to West Virginia in the spring.
The number of monarchs has decreased significantly over the past twenty years and they need our help. The great thing about Monarchs are that everyone can make a difference. They’ve been threatened by a declining habitat, a lack of milkweed and certainly by threats along the wayof their three thousand mile journey and when they get to the wintering grounds. But we can do things in our own back yards to help this species. So think of planting a variety of native plants, especially milkweed, and maybe reduce the number of pesticides that you use. All of these things are very important and can make a big difference when it comes to the Monarch Butterfly.
So enjoy the coming weeks, and keep your eyes out for the Monarch Butterflies. If you see them passing by, remember the transformation they’ve just completed and the incredible journey they are about to begin.
For Allegheny Mountain Radio, this is District Ranger Sandy Sandeno on the Marlinton/white Sulphur District, Monongahela National Forest.