If You Build It, They Will Come

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If You Build It, They Will Come


One-thousand, eight-hundred sixty-three miles. That’s the distance from Central Iowa to the overwintering grounds for monarch butterflies in the Michoacan Mountain range, just west of Mexico City.  That fiery fleeting monarch you caught a glimpse of this fall wasn’t just a butterfly, it was a ‘superbutterfly’  in mid-journey of thousands of miles of travel from Canada to Mexico,  on one of the longest migrations known to any animal on Earth, passing right through our backyards in Iowa on its way.

This month in November, millions of monarchs have arrived and are huddled together in massive colonies, covering every inch of Oyamel fir trees, gently bending its branches like a blanket of orange snow in the Michoancan Mountain range.  Layer upon layer of delicate paper-thin wings brave the cool winter at these high elevations, conserving energy by going into a type of hibernation called diapause, only stirring on the warmest of sunny days to flutter to the nearest water source for a drink. 

In early spring, the warming temperatures will awaken their senses and turn on their desire to mate.  Starting only as a trickle, the monarchs soon beginning flooding away from their roosting sites en masse in a visual spectacle unmatched in the natural world.  They swirl overhead, find a mate, breed and then head northward after a long winter.  Females, now ready to lay their eggs, are in search of one thing:  milkweed.  The only plant on which they can lay their eggs and the only food monarch caterpillars can consume.

All spring and summer, and spanning two to three generations, the monarchs follow the milkweed bloom from Texas to Canada.  Next fall, at the northern limits of milkweed, the last generation of the season will hatch, become voracious caterpillars and then metamorphosize into ‘super’ monarchs that are destined to journey all the way back to Mexico, often times flying over a hundred miles a day.

This ancient and fascinating migration of the monarch butterfly is one of the wonders of our natural world.  But monarchs, like many of our lesser-known native butterflies and pollinators, responsible for pollinating more than 1/3 of all the food we eat, are in steep decline in this rapidly changing world.  They are disappearing due to many reasons including climate change and some modern agricultural practices.  But we can do something right now, right here in Iowa to help our pollinators thrive.

Blank Park Zoo is embarking on a new project in collaboration with other Midwest zoos as well as local and regional organizations to encourage the public to provide much needed pollinator habitat in their yards.  These specialized butterfly gardens will provide the resources needed for our beautiful butterflies and essential pollinators to once again thrive in Iowa’s landscape.

Stay tuned for more information on how you can join Blank Park Zoo in this important conservation initiative.  Contact conservation coordinator, Jessie Lowry at jrlowry@blankparkzoo.org for more information.

11/19/2013 2:13 PM |Add a comment
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