You may have already noticed the majestic monarchs quietly and gently descending around us as they go about their 1,500- to 2,000-mile migration to Mexico.
On Friday, there were easily hundreds if not a few thousand of the butterflies in central Kansas as they pushed ahead of a cool front. More numbers are coming through from Nebraska and farther north, said Pam Martin, educator at Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend.
“We had a tremendous rush that came through on Friday when the front came through,” said Jim Mason, director of the Great Plains Nature Center. “I’ve been watching the butterfly bush in my backyard to see the activity, and it remained consistent at least through Sunday.”
He said he has not seen a real push yet in the migration here. The migration is usually winding down in Kansas by early October. The number of monarchs in the area depends on the weather.
“Southerly winds between now and then will keep them in our area,” Mason said. “Northerly winds, and they will take advantage of it and head on.”
Much of the information we know about monarchs comes from Chip Taylor, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. In 1992, he founded Monarch Watch, a national outreach program that helps educate, research and provide conservation tips to aid the monarchs.
This year’s migration will be a good one, according to Taylor’s blog on the Monarch Watch website.
Based on the number of eggs, this will be the best migration since 2011, his blog said.
“This is good news since the tagging, isotope and observational data suggest that more than 90% of the monarchs reaching Mexico originate in this region,” Taylor wrote.
The monarchs observed now are solely focused on their journey, stopping briefly when they can to feed on goldenrod, sunflowers and anything in bloom, Mason said.
“All they are interested in is heading south for the winter,” Mason said. “They have a ways to go.”
The monarchs’ journey south has been aided by nectar from flowers, but recent hot, windy days have shriveled some of those flowers.
“They require nectar flowers all the way down through Texas,” said Martin of Cheyenne Bottoms. “We are hoping to build their numbers back up. Keep our fingers crossed that they do well in their roosts in Mexico and a big winter storm doesn’t come through and kill millions.”
Two winters ago, the monarch population hit rock bottom from a combination of factors: a harsh winter, drought and no-till farming practices that have nearly diminished their breeding habitat.
But researchers are noticing a slight uptick in their numbers as people across the nation plant milkweed to help the butterflies and other insects. Individuals, towns, organizations and highway departments across the nation are doing that.
“We tell people always plant milkweed, plant milkweed, plant milkweed,” Mason said. “That’s what the monarchs need to raise their caterpillars.”
The time to plant milkweed seeds is now, Mason said.
“You can get it from sources online through wildflower packets and seed,” he said. “But if you know of a pasture and landowner who might have milkweed on their property, get permission and gather the seeds yourself. This is when mother nature is seeding the prairie.”
Population surveys of the monarchs will be done in December and January.
With luck, the butterflies will return to Kansas next spring as they migrate back to the northern United States and Canada.
Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: .
Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.
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