The Transylvania Times -

Fall 2019 Monarch Predictions For Transylvania County

 

September 23, 2019

The Monarch butterfly is easily identifiable from its bright orange and black coloring, which signal to predators that they aren't a very tasty meal. Monarch's are poisonous to birds.

Some events in our past stand out as one of those "when and where" moments in life. One for myself was the fall of 1977 on the football field in Rosman. On a clear crisp September afternoon during a school PE class, the sky was almost darkened by thousands and thousands of monarch butterflies.

It was an impressive show as the migration that year had a pretty direct path over our little town. I can still remember trying to count them has they graciously glided and circled overhead catching thermals heading south. Not knowing much about the monarchs then, it only added more interest later as I learned of the heroic feats these little guys accomplish on their annual trek.

Monarch's (Danaus plexippus), sometimes called the milkweed butterfly, lives a short but interesting life of 6-8 months. At the end of winter in central Mexico, monarch's mate, the male dying soon after. The females soon head North and travel as far as 3,000 miles into Canada depositing eggs on milkweed plants along the way.

The milkweed plant acts not only as host for food, shelter and a nursery, it also provides a toxin that protects the monarchs from predators by making the butterfly poisonous to any predators if ingested. Thus the bright colors on their wings act as a warning to predators of their toxicity.

The entire egg to butterfly process called metamorphosis takes about a month. A monarchs average size is 3.7 - 4.1 inches and it weighs 0.0095 - 0.026 ounces.

Despite its size and the fact no Monarch makes a round trip, these amazing guys travel close to the same migration path each year, landing in the same forest and sometimes even the same tree as its ancestors have for years.

What can we do in Transylvania County to help the monarch in an ever-changing world? We can plant milkweed in areas that are suitable. Sunny areas with moist and well-drained soils that are left alone so milkweed can expand without interference of other larger plants are ideal. These areas will become nursery areas, so long-term commitment for the space is a good idea.

Large sunny areas of wildflowers, including clover, surrounded by trees used for roasting areas are great for feeding areas and hold over areas as migrations come though. Mowing less-used areas less often helps many pollinators and other species by offering food and cover.

Last Saturday was my first monarch sighting this fall. I was telling a group of paddlers about our sometimes right-on-target migrations we get around Headwaters Outfitters. One of the paddlers was a lady from Illinois and she and her husband do a fall monarch viewing tour on their farm. She had just received a call from him that the migration had begun to start up there.

So, I would say we should see increased numbers at the time of this article through the next few weeks. Will we see a big mass this year? No one knows, but you will see these unique creatures on their way south.

The butterfly habitat at Headwaters Outfitters is left unmowed, protecting food for Monarchs and other pollinators at their river take out and campground.

Some great viewing spots are along ridge tops, including the Parkway, Black Balsam and its surrounding open areas and many of the open areas throughout the county at both high and low elevations. Several things can affect yearly sightings. Populations can vary from seasonal conditions, early quick fall freezes can be very harmful, jet streams and weather currents can move migration routes east or west of Transylvania.

Overall, habitat issues from loss of quality wintering grounds to loss of feeding and the essential milkweed habitat all have played a part in population decline over the years. Doing our part here in Transylvania County to encourage monarch habitat is a small but needed piece of the 3,000-mile Monarch Trail.

Whitmire is co-owner of Headwaters Outfitters, and is actively involved in local conservation efforts like the French Broad River Clean up and wildlife rehabilitation programs.

 
 

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