By Stacie Martin
We have started to see the fall monarch migration at Gathering Place. The migration is a few weeks earlier than last year, so we hope we can help them continue their flight safely! They love the perimeter of Peggy’s Pond, the Sky Garden, and the prairies.
It is important to have food for the monarch caterpillars and adults during their fall migration from Canada to Mexico. The adult monarchs love the high quality, nectar-producing flowers that are blooming right now. Adult females search for Milkweed plants to lay eggs on, as Milkweed plants are the only thing that monarch caterpillars eat. Milkweed contains chemicals that make the caterpillars poisonous, protecting them from predators. Interestingly, the monarch’s bright coloration is called Aposematic Coloration, and it warns predators of their danger.
This monarch is feasting on nectar from the flowers of Swamp Milkweed! Swamp Milkweed is a tall Milkweed that likes wet soils. This is planted around Peggy’s Pond perimeter and the Wetland Gardens.
We also have Butterfly Milkweed planted in the prairies and at Sky Garden. The orange flower is beautiful and loved by many different pollinators. Oklahoma has 20 different types of Milkweed native to the state, and so far, Gathering Place has three different types!
Milkweed is easiest to plant from seed. Their seed pods are fun, as the seeds have threadlike filaments that help them spread with the wind.
One way to spot the difference between male and female monarchs is to look at their hind wings and see the specialized black scales that appear as black spots.
The female monarchs have thinner wing veins and no black spots. The adult female can see and smell Milkweed, but they double-check their work by using the spines on their legs to cut into the plant. The chemicals that are released from the cut will tell the monarch butterfly if the plant is milkweed or not.
We also have a monarch look-a-like, the Viceroy! The hind wings have a connected, horizontal line, distinguishing it from the monarch.
Monarchs are a loved butterfly that demonstrates the dependence and vulnerability of different insects, birds, and animals on plants. In 1996, there were 1 billion monarchs. In 2013, there were 33 million monarchs. Reasons for this decline include loss of habitat, insecticides, disease, and climate change. However, there is hope! Oklahoma right-of-ways schedule their mowing based on the monarch migration to keep Milkweed available, and many people are planting Milkweed and nectar plants to help the populations thrive.