As the days become shorter and the temperature feels cooler monarch butterflies begin their annual migration from Canada across the United States to central Mexico (Monarch Watch Migration Map). Their migration is what makes the monarch butterfly an iconic species that inspires people throughout North America.
Milkweed is a MUST!
Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed. Adult butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants which become monarch caterpillars that consume only milkweed. In early spring, the first generation of the wintering butterflies in Mexico begin their northbound journey, arriving in Texas and neighboring states where they lay eggs on milkweed plants. The larvae hatch on milkweed and eventually emerge as adult butterflies and continue to fly north into the eastern U.S. and Canada in search of milkweed.
What’s the Problem?
Recent winter surveys of monarchs in Mexico indicate that the population has declined by 80%! Multiple threats are known to impact monarch survival, and experts agree that a decline in milkweed and nectar plants in the summer breeding areas in the midwest has reduced the ability of the population to recover to historical levels.
What is the City of Columbia doing to help?
In response to the plight of monarchs and other pollinator populations the City of Columbia with the support of 3M, Missouri Department of Conservation, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is restoring 15+ acres of monarch habitat. Currently, the City has chosen three demonstration sites along the MKT trail, Twin Lakes Park, and Gans Creek Recreation Area. In addition to these sites the City also has a network of 10-12 sites from an existing array of rain gardens along city streets (look for the “No Mow Zone” signs!).
To enhance these sites for monarchs and other pollinators the City and its partners have been busy preparing the three large sites for seeding next winter. Site preparation entails removing all existing nonnative and invasive vegetation using herbicides, controlled fire, and mowing. In the meantime, the City has also integrated a variety of milkweed species and other nectaring native wildflowers into rain garden plots that are typically covered with turf grass.
As part of this two year project the City and Columbia Public Schools are working together to propagate 5,000+ milkweed plugs from locally sourced milkweed seeds. These plants will be made available for both site enhancement throughout Columbia and for use by private landowners. Finally, at completion these monarch habitat sites will be used as demonstration sites for educational and outreach activities as well as recreational opportunities for the public.
Want to learn more or get involved with monarch conservation?
Check out these websites for ideas, citizen science opportunities and more!