When we moved into our house a year ago, the yard needed a little work. Quite a few weeds were growing in the mulch around the house. Among those weeds were several milkweed plants. I knew these plants made good food for caterpillars, so we pulled all the weeds and kept the milkweed. Last summer we did see monarch butterflies checking out our plants, but we never saw any caterpillars.
This spring, even more milkweed came up in the mulch around the house! we never observed adult monarchs this summer, but in July we had a chrysalis on our front porch. In August I found 4 caterpillars on our plants. We left them alone, just checking every few days to see if they were still there. A few weeks later, we found a second chrysalis in the shed. Monarch chrysalis is a beautiful light green color with an almost gold line around it.
As I watched these hungry little creatures gobble up the milkweed in late August, I can’t help but wonder if any of them will become an adult butterfly. If they do, will they make the flight to Mexico this fall? It’s hard to believe little caterpillars born in Michigan become butterflies who fly across the U.S. to another country! But their journey is not guaranteed. Many monarch butterflies do not make it to their wintering grounds in Mexico.
In July of 2022, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared migratory monarch butterflies to be endangered. The migratory monarch butterfly is a subspecies of monarchs found in North and Central America. The IUCN reviews studies of all different kinds of animals and plants to determine if the populations are increasing, decreasing, or stable. If the population is decreasing, they work with researchers to try to find out why this is happening. IUCN has determined that migratory monarch butterflies are under threat from loss of habitat, climate change, and pesticide use. The good news is that there are ways people can help!
If my experience sounds like something you would enjoy, you too can help monarchs in your yard! Take action to help this iconic butterfly population to bounce back. Potter Park Zoo is offering packs of pollinator-friendly seed mix for sale in the AniMall gift shop this fall. These seeds come from our own pollinator garden and feature nectar-producing flowers and milkweed to help feed butterflies and caterpillars. Proceeds from seed mix sales will go to the SAFE Monarch program run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Come check out the display on our conservation kiosk with other purpose-driven items while supplies last!
Native wildflower garden at PPZ provides seeds for the gift shop
If you would like to learn more about how delicate butterflies fly thousands of miles, click on this link to see a blog post from last fall: https://potterparkzoo.org/where-have-all-the-monarchs-gone/
Read more about when migratory monarchs were listed as endangered in this press release from IUCN: https://www.iucn.org/press-release/202207/migratory-monarch-butterfly-now-endangered-iucn-red-list
Written by: Megan Weidman