Butterfly Release 2013

Butterfly Release

North America’s monarch butterflies spend summers in our back yards, in our open fields of wildflowers, and on our roadsides where natural vegetation of wildflowers grow. Now, come fall, they migrate some 2000 miles to overwinter in some of Mexico’s mountain forests where they cling in masses to each tree limb as if leaves orange and black always grew there. It is these amazing little “flying machines” that are significant pollinators of our plant life, for as they stop to “tank up” on nectar from the flower population, they indeed become major pollinators for the species they visit.

In recent years monarch numbers have plummeted more than 80%, a fact that has caused the Fish and Wildlife Foundation to pledge $1.2 million to foster public and private partnerships in ecosystem restoration where larger numbers of flower species can be visited by monarchs. Their interest comes under concern within the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also joined the movement by pledging $2 million to restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of prime monarch habitat…more than 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens have become part of this project.

“Their wings are in our hands” as South Fork Nature Center is the recipient of $2000 of this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding for their some 10 acres of glade currently being restored. Mary Ann King of Pine Ridge Gardens north of Russellville is presently growing about 500 milkweed plants from seed, plants that we at South Fork hope to set in to the glade area that is being restored (this glade restoration project is also through USFWS grant monies). Mary Ann says the plants may be ready by early May or so…get your digging tools ready, for the milkweed restoration project is just around the corner. These are the species of Asclepias plants being grown that we will use to enrich our glades for visits by the monarchs: A. incarnata, A. verticillata, A. hirtella, A. amplexicaulis, A. viridis, A. viridiflora.

These milkweed species are the only plants on which monarchs lay their eggs…larvae hatch out and feed exclusively on the milkweed leaves as they grow in size ultimately to pupate and metamorphose into adult monarchs as they emerge from the chrysalis…the adults lay eggs and the cycle begins again. Perhaps programs like this site restoration will allow the monarch population to grow in numbers lifting it from the endangered species list.

(A similar article appears in the 2015 April/May edition of National Wildlife; last month’s SFNC Newsletter also had a related article.)