Monarch Butteries are dependent on milkweed for survival, while there are several species of milkweed plants their need narrows with specific milkweed native to their areas. The plant is essential to their survival. Monarchs need more than milkweed to support them throughout the year. Adult monarchs need nectar to fuel them during the breeding cycle and to build up stores of fat which sustain them during fall migration and winter. Over the last two decades, the western population of the Monarch that over winters spreading out hundreds of miles along the California coast has declined by 50 percent.
Historically, there were more than 400 overwintering sites along the coastal range of California; currently there are 221 known active sites while only 48 of these sites had more than 1,000 butterflies in 2015. The case of decline is varied: loss of breeding and migration habitat, herbicide and insecticide applications, loss or alteration of overwintering sites, climate change, and disease.
Plant it and they will come, our tell of citizen science of the Monarch Butterfly:
In 2015: The wonder of nature came within three weeks of planting just (6) young milkweed plants along with other native plants of the Great Basin. The Monarch caterpillars were discovered munching away at the six young plants within weeks of planting. Up to (25) caterpillars of various sizes grazed on the plants turning them into just stems of what was once milkweed plants. Within a month’s time of planting nature once again prevailed and the Monarch’s chrysalis stage started, daily the caterpillars would wander on to find “their chosen spot” to transform to the next succession of life.
In 2016: Additional milkweed was planted up to a hundred plants in (4) different locations, the Monarchs once again did not disappoint and discovered the plants, and so the cycle of life continued. This year we started population counts for caterpillars, butterflies, chrysalis, along with confirmed Monarch hatches. Winter comes early in the Great Basin and the nights get cold, caterpillars were still struggling to get enough nourishment to transform into the chrysalis stage. The late caterpillars were “taken in” for captive rearing through their final stage to the chrysalis and into the butterfly. The Monarchs hatched within in a few days of each other, they were tagged and released in Redding, CA where it was still warm and the Monarch’s would have a better chance of reaching their winter grounds.
In 2017: The Monarch Project again didn’t disappoint, the Monarchs were a month late of returning due to storms along their migratory route back from their winter grounds. Getting a late start means being here later in the year when the weather changes to cold nights. About 12 chrysalises were taken in for hatching purposes, upon hatching they were tagged, released and told to fly fast to their winter grounds. We had a great year lots of stats collected; every year seems to be a greater success story. The project took a different direction this year, so it seems it became more of an education program then a science one. You see the public started to notice our little Monarch Project which meant we were asked to speak at group meetings, we were ask to give tours of our project because who doesn’t want to see the Monarch life cycle “live” right? Imagine going into a garden and seeing all four stages of the Monarch Butterfly live in front of your eyes, butterfly, eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis. It is truly amazing really. So we step back from The Monarch Project because when we are asked to do education it turns into a whole other realm in which some believe is not citizen science. We enjoy the education concept and grasp the benefits we have seen from it, but we feel you can’t have science with out education. The Monarchs will still come; even though we are not there counting them, we have learned a lot in the three years, and will never forget the amazing things of life we have witnessed. What a blessing this ride has been.
What did the Monarch’s teach us; they taught us about what happens in nature, life and death, struggles for a species that has a lot of unfortunate issues to endure, how fragile it can be, yet at times stronger than you or I.
Our Motto: “Creating Habitat and engaging others in the Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly “
A big thank you to Tracy Hart for the wonderful photographs of the Monarch Project along with her dedication and passion to the project and the Monarch Butterfly.