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August 10, 2019

Monarchs rule once again

Heritage Matters by Pam Handley

Monarchs on the rebound this season. Pam Handley Photo

When I was at the Museum on Riverbend Road we used to regularly receive shipments of free exhibits from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). One of them was of the Monarch Butterfly complete with a marvelous video of all its stages from the tiny caterpillar to the beautiful adult.

Monarch - such a noble name for a butterfly.  “The common name of this butterfly was assigned by early settlers to North America. There was, at the time, a King William (the 3rd apparently), Prince of Orange, state holder of Holland, who would later be named King of England.  The butterfly’s colour lead to the name.”  That would be the same William of Orange who is remembered every July 12 which is just about the time these beautiful winged wonders begin to appear again after their journey from Mexico.

Monarchs have had a tough time of it lately but this summer, according to experts, efforts to protect them and good weather have helped replenish their populations. The CBC reported that scientists predicted a “Good summer ahead for Monarch butterflies in Northern Ontario.” The World Wildlife Federation was estimating an increase of 144%.

Milkweed leaves do the trick for a Monarch caterpillar as it prepares for chrysalis. Dave Dale photo
Milkweed leaves do the trick for a Monarch caterpillar as it prepares for chrysalis. Dave Dale photo

Earlier this week, I had a knock on the door by a lady I know asking if we had milk weed leaves. Sharon Paris said one of her friends had given her a Monarch caterpillar and she was running out of her supply of leaves. She was hoping to see it go from the larvae stage to pupa (chrysalis) before emerging as an adult butterfly.

Despite having a mature milk weed plant, there hadn’t been a lot of Monarchs visiting our backyard, save for the one I photographed above.

So, there we were in the pouring rain gathering a handful of leaves for her hungry little caterpillar.

Interestingly, the CBC reported Thursday that the experts were indeed correct with Gard Otis, an adjunct professor and researcher at the University of Guelph citing larger numbers due to the favourable Mexico winter and a wet Texas spring.

So, how does the Monarch butterfly fit into the Heritage Matters category?  Well, when we check the dictionary for the word heritage several words pop up: “folklore, countryside, worthy of preservation, inherited circumstances.” 

- When you ask Google for folklore about Monarchs - you open a Pandora’s box - there is so much to learn about these beautiful creatures - please check them out.   

- Monarchs are especially found in the countryside where various types of milkweed plants grow - the plants Monarchs love to eat and also to lay their eggs on so the tiny dark green and yellow striped babies also have lots to eat.

-  And so we are doing our best to preserve the milkweed plants in order to preserve the mighty Monarchs by visiting garden nurseries and planting our gardens.  Then in the fall gathering the dark brown seeds nestled in the soft furry down and beginning our own plants indoors for spring planting.   

Sharon Paris captured this photo of a Monarch caterpillar as it nibbles on a milkweed leaf. Sharon Paris photo
Sharon Paris captured this photo of a Monarch caterpillar as it nibbles on a milkweed leaf. Sharon Paris photo

-    Inherited circumstances - certainly we have contributed by cutting down so many trees in Mexico to which the Monarchs migrate and spend the winter. However, Mexico is valiantly trying to curtail these logging operations.  Am sure there are not too many people who have not seen photos and videos of millions “eastern population of North America’s monarchs overwinters in the same 11 to 12 mountain areas in the States of Mexico and Michoacan from Oct. to late March.  Monarchs roost for the winter in oyamel fir forests at an elevation of 2,400 to 3,600 meters (nearly 2 miles above sea level)”. 

I don’t know about you but this summer when greeting friends one is inclined to say can you believe how many Monarchs there are again instead of isn’t it great summer weather!  We have seen Monarchs in North Bay, Callander, Ottawa, Belleville and all places in between. 

They are here and oh what joy to see the Monarch butterflies back again.  Do you remember years ago in North Bay when we took these amazing creatures for granted only to see them gradually disappear over the years. When the kids were small we visited Ajax one summer and friends took us along the Lake Ontario Bluffs where we were positively surrounded by Monarchs.  We always connect this beautiful event with accompanying one of the kids who was learning the guitar by lustily backing her up with Delta Dawn and her faded rose of days gone by… and if we do not help to preserve and grow Milkweed the Monarchs may be in days gone by… and that would be so sad.  

Milkweed flowers in Pam Handleys backyard. Dave Dale photo
Milkweed flowers in Pam Handleys backyard. Dave Dale photo
It started on Tuesday ...
It started on Tuesday ...
... and it was quick!
... and it was quick!
<p>And two weeks later, Disco emerges as a butterfly...
</p>

And two weeks later, Disco emerges as a butterfly...

<p>Disco the Monarch butterfly was released in Pam and Peter Handley's backyard Aug. 22. Sharon said it's hard letting go but added she has another one to help feed and raise.
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Disco the Monarch butterfly was released in Pam and Peter Handley's backyard Aug. 22. Sharon said it's hard letting go but added she has another one to help feed and raise.

Pam Handley's Heritage Matters column is a regular feature in A Bit of the Bay Magazine. Send feedback to: [email protected]

Reader feedback:

Peter Handley Jr. said: When Eilah was 3 months old we took her down to Mexico for her baptism and while there, we went on a horseback ride to one of the Monarch sanctuaries near-ish to Mexico City... most of them were already departed when we got there, but we did see quite a few - would love to go back there some time at the right time of year to see the trees full of them.


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