As a part of our year-long educational emphasis on biodiversity, Crossroads at Big Creek will host Monarch Weekend on June 8 and 9th. Monarch butterflies migrate….and more remarkable, the monarchs born here in Door County in late summer are able to find their way to their wintering area located in a very small mountainous area of Mexico.
But biodiversity? Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed and they overwinter exclusively on Oyamel Fir trees. Those are rather specific requirements. So why do these orange and black butterflies inspire us to increase biodiversity?
What is good for monarch butterflies will help most insect pollinators and by extension, improve the habitat for all plants and animals. And what’s good for monarchs is biodiversity.
Most of the monarchs which soon will descend on the Door Peninsula hatched and developed in Texas or Louisiana. The adult butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers, so they will be drawn to gardens and unmowed meadows and fields where they can feed. But they also will be searching for the tender young leaves of milkweed plants on which they must lay their eggs.
For most of summer, monarchs behave much like other butterflies. Caterpillars eat (and eat and eat) the leaves of their host plant, milkweed, form chrysalises, and by summertime, a new generation of butterflies emerge. They also will need blooming flowers on which to feed and milkweed plants on which to lay eggs. Their offspring hatch, develop and become adults. If the summers are warm and conditions are good (read that, if they find lots of milkweed and more blooming flowers) these butterflies mate, the females lay eggs and the cycle continues. At least, the cycle continues till about Labor Day. At the end of summer, though they look the same, the monarch butterflies are not able to breed. Instead, they cluster and begin their journey to their wintering areas in Mexico.
During their migration, the butterflies sip from as many nectar-rich flowers as they can find, not so much for flight (they glide most of the way) but to build up the body fat they will need to survive their winter dormancy. Most monarchs are heavier when they reach the orymel fir forest than they were when they left their summer homes. At least that used to be the case. Monarchs have faced serious difficulties in the past decade.
According to Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch, “The latest decline [the winter of 2012/2013] was hastened by drought and record-breaking heat in North America when the monarchs arrived last spring to reproduce. Warmer than usual conditions led the insects to arrive early and to nest farther north than is typical. The early arrival disrupted the monarchs’ breeding cycle, he said, and the hot weather dried insect eggs and lowered the nectar content of the flowers on which they feed. That in turn weakened the butterflies and lowered the number of eggs laid.”
Here in Door County, most of the spring generation apparently just flew on by and bred somewhere farther north, and of the eggs which were laid here, many were destroyed by parasites.
On Sunday, June 9, 7:00, the world renowned monarch expert Dr. Brower will present “Monarchs and Biodiversity”
In 1977 Brower first visited the overwintering sites of the monarch in central Mexico. He immediately realized that the phenomenal migration and overwintering biology was endangered by logging in their winter roost areas. Currently he is involved in extensive geographic information system analyses (GIS) with Mexican and US colleagues at NASA documenting the appalling deforestation in Mexico which is destroying the microclimate needs of the monarch. But the monarch’s troubles extend beyond Mexico. Dr. Brower is convinced that lack of biodiversity threatens monarchs in the United States and Canada. Dr. Brower will “weave together this saga of more than 5o years of research on the marvelously complex, beautiful, and intriguing behaviors of the monarch butterfly which collectively have become an endangered biological phenomenon.”
Wild Ones of Door County are involved in the Wild for Monarchs program and they are encouraging “people who care deeply about their environment and their connection to nature, to provide food and shelter for monarchs and other pollinators.” As part of the Monarch Weekend event, on Saturday, June 8 at 10:00, Master Gardener and Wild Ones member, Chriss Daubner will present the slide lecture, “Inviting Butterflies to Your Property.” Chriss has created a stunning butterfly habitat by planting and maintaining a prairie with nectar-producing flowers which bloom throughout the growing season. She will help Door County gardeners improve the biodiversity of their own property by creating a monarch wayside.
The Monarch Weekend at Crossroads is a collaborative effort of Friends of Crossroads, Wild Ones of Door County, and Newport State Park, and is underwritten with grants from the Raibrook Foundation and the Door County Community Foundation.
Saturday, June 8, 10:00 “Inviting Butterflies to Your Property.”
Master Gardener and Wild Ones member Chriss Daubner has created a stunning butterfly habitat by planting and maintaining a prairie with nectar-producing flowers which bloom throughout the growing season. She will help Door County gardeners improve the biodiversity of their own property by creating a monarch wayside. Lecture hall of the Collins Learning Center. Free and Open to the Public.
–1:00 Family Program: Monarchs
Crossroads will host a one hour hands-on (outdoors, weather permitting) family program on Monarchs. This program is free and open to the public.
2:00 Monarchs in the Field
Any who wishes to spend time in the field with Dr. Brower and his research colleague Julie Hein-Frank in the field are invited join a car caravan from the Crossroads parking lot to Newport State Park (or meet the group at Newport at 3:00) A state park sticker will be required for each vehicle.
Sunday, June 9 at 2:00 Cross-generational Class: “Meet the Monarch
Crossroads will offer a Cross-Generational Class called “Meet the Monarch” In this activity, one adult and one youth (age 7-12) take part in a multi-media class to learn together. Thanks to a grant from the Door County Community Foundation, this class is free, but pre-registration is required. Call 746-5895 for more information and to enroll.
–7:00 “Monarchs and Biodiversity” with Dr. Lincoln Brower
World-renowned monarch expert will present the keynote lecture. He will “weave together the saga of more than 5o years of research on the marvelously complex, beautiful, and intriguing behaviors of the monarch butterfly and the problems, including lack of biodiversity, which collectively have become an endangered biological phenomenon.” This lecture is free thanks to a grant from the Raibrook Foundation.