If you have ever seen a traveling rabble or swarm of butterflies you know it is quite an amazing sight. Thousands of flying insects fill the sky, all trying to get south before the cold weather comes. Of all these butterfly migrations, probably the most famous is that of the Monarch Butterfly. During its epic journey, Monarchs leave their summer home in Canada and travel through the United States, all the way to Mexico. Their migration is almost 5000km long!
Press play to watch these beautiful butterflies soar!
Did you know…the time it takes for the Monarch Butterfly to migrate and return home is longer than their average life span? This means that the Monarchs who start the journey are usually the grandparents or even the great grandparents of the butterflies who make it back to Canada.
Monarch butterflies are also known for being toxic thanks to a plant called Milkweed. The Milkweed has a toxic milky sap, which, when eaten, makes the Monarch butterfly poisonous and taste awful. This recipe for a toxic butterfly is the Monarch’s best defense against predators. Animals that eat one of these butterflies get very sick and who can forget something like that! A potential predator will remember that they became ill the last time they ate a Monarch and they will avoid snacking on them in the future.
The toxicity of Monarchs is also helpful for other butterflies. The Viceroy Butterfly, like the Monarch, has beautiful orange and black patterned wings. They are also about the same size. Since they look so much alike, animals avoid eating the Viceroy because they think it is a gross tasting Monarch. This helps the Viceroy avoid being turned into a snack for a hungry animal, a survival strategy called mimicry.
Milkweed and Monarchs go hand in hand. It is almost the only food that monarch caterpillars eat. They make their homes in areas like the Tall Grass Prairie in Manitoba where milkweed plants grow, along with other wild flowers, like golden rod and asters. Their dependence on these plants means it is very important for us to protect these areas.
In Canada, the Monarch Butterfly is of Special Concern. This means that they are sensitive to human activities, but not endangered or threatened. The monarch needs protection because if things continue as they are it is only a matter of time before their status becomes more serious.
One of the main threats facing the Monarch butterfly is habitat loss. They are losing their homes because of logging, human disturbance and predators. Herbicides are also a threat to Monarchs because they are used on plants like Milkweed. With herbicides killing off milkweed Monarchs have a harder time finding food.
Monarchs need your help. Here’s what you can do:
- Support the Monarch Butterfly by starting a Bring Back the Wild campaign. Your support will go towards making sure the Tall Grass Prairie is protected and ensuring kids like you learn all about Monarchs and how to protect them.
- Plant a butterfly garden. Research the plants that are native to your area and which ones will attract butterflies (like Milkweed) then get planting!