Summer is in full swing, and the flowers are in bloom! All around Muskoka you see garden beds and roadside ditches blossoming in colour and insects are in their glory!
Monarch butterflies are a well known species of special concern in Ontario. Many of us know about the amazing Monarch migration – these insects can travel between southern Canada and Central America a distance of up to 3000 kms (some travel an astonishing 80 kms in a single day)! They magically are able to find their wintering grounds in Mexico after being born in their summer range. In order to do this successfully, Monarchs need to have a healthy fat storage before they make their journey south. They survive on the food they’ve eaten before migrating to Mexico – much of that food is from milkweed plants that they store when they are in their larval stage.
The Monarch is a showy orange and black butterfly with small white spots and the caterpillar is easily recognized with its black, white and yellow stripes (pictured above). The caterpillars feed primarily on milkweed plants, and the adults feed on nectar from a variety of wildflowers. Milkweed is especially beneficial to Monarchs because it contains a toxin that caterpillars are able to store in their bodies as they feed; the toxin makes the adult butterflies poisonous to bird predators.
The largest threat to Monarchs is habitat loss and fragmentation. Much of this concern is at overwintering sites in central Mexico where forests are being logged and converted into agricultural fields and pastures. The loss of habitat in the Muskoka area is also a concern, as is widespread pesticide and herbicide use throughout the Monarch’s range.
Want to do your part to help protect the Monarch? Don’t mow your ditches! Plant milkweed seeds and plants on your property to help create habitat for these amazing insects and keep your lawn and garden healthy without the use of pesticides! If you’d like to help track this species, feel free to report your sightings and follow Journey North, an online project that tracks the migration of Monarchs.
RiverStone has been lucky enough to spot Monarch caterpillars in the Corner Garden at our office at 47 Quebec Street in Bracebridge. Feel free to stop by and visit!