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Illinois hunting and fishing

Monarch butterflies are drawn to the flowers of stiff goldenrod at the Friends of the Sangamon Valley’s Wolf Preserve.

Migrating monarchs on the move

September 25, 2010 at 09:11 PM

The State Journal-Register

Just as millions of birds begin the twice-yearly ritual of migration, there is another, less expected traveler on the move.

Monarch butterflies are the only butterfly to make a two-way migration — and it takes multiple generations to make one complete round-trip.

Instead of migrating, most butterflies spend the winter as a larva or a chrysalis. Some hibernate as adult butterflies, seeking shelter under loosen tree bark or other cover.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, monarchs can’t stand the extreme cold of winter, so they have to find a place where conditions are exactly tailored to their needs.

It can’t be too warm or too cool. The humidity has to be just right so their bodies don’t dry out.

And some monarchs will travel as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home in central Mexico, roosting in oyamel fir trees growing in forests on mountainsides.

Monarchs on the west coast find similar conditions, known as a microclimate, in California.

The migratory generation of monarchs that travels south somehow halts its development, not becoming reproductive until it is time to head back north. Then it takes successive generations to make the trip to the northern United States and Canada.

Some other butterflies that cannot withstand harsh winters migrate northward every year — generation by generation — until they die back to areas where milder climates are the norm. They start the process over again the following spring.

Monarchs are the only ones to travel both directions, and they are starting to move through central Illinois.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Vern LaGesse of Friends of the Sangamon Valley was mowing a path around the prairie at the Wolf Preserve in Menard County a week ago.

“There must have been thousands,” he says. “They were covering the stiff goldenrod flowers.”

LaGesse was getting ready for a group outing at the 70-acre preserve. He says it was curious the butterflies were attracted to one form of goldenrod and not the more common Canada goldenrod.

“The stiff goldenrod must have been at its peak for producing nectar,” he says. “It just goes to show the benefits of native plants.”

At Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center, education coordinator Betsy Irwin says reports have been coming in of monarchs clustering in open sunny areas, especially near the Lincoln Council Ring.

The garden’s executive director Jim Matheis says the peak of migration is probably a week away.

He says monarchs are especially attracted to a beautiful fall flower with purple ray flowers and gold centers.

“It usually coincides with the blooming of the New England asters,” he says.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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Nice read! Several years ago I had the pleasure of having the migrators hang out in our fence row and back field for several days - it was quite the spectacular sight! Several of the local schools science classes were able to troop out to see them smile

Posted by G on 09/29 at 07:33 AM

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