August 21, 2014

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Migrations have begun
Kylee Baumle

I’ve mentioned before that our garden is a Certified Monarch Waystation ( That means we purposely grow milkweed plants for their caterpillars. Plants in the Asclepias genus are the only ones monarch caterpillars eat and from the looks of things, they’re now chowing down in our garden. It’s the time of year that this final generation, perhaps the third or fourth of the season, will differ from the earlier ones in that they won’t mate and reproduce. Instead, they’ll soon begin their journey to the Oyamel fir forests of central Mexico, where they’ll make their home until next spring, when they’ll make the return trip north.

What fascinates me about this is that there’s nothing genetically different about this generation of monarch butterflies than the one that gave birth to them and the ones before them, earlier in the spring. So how do they know that they’re supposed to fly a couple thousand miles to a place they’ve never been before and how do they know the way? That’s been studied for decades and scientists don’t have all the answers to those questions either. It’s just one of the incredible miracles of nature.

Peak migration in our area is usually the middle of September. We happen to lie within a major monarch migration corridor so if you pay close attention, you might see large clusters of them roosting in a tree as dusk approaches and the temperatures drop. They can’t fly very well at temperatures below 50°F, so they huddle together in trees overnight to conserve energy and warmth, and then resume their journey in the morning as the sun warms things up. They will continue to feed on nectar from garden plants where they’re available.