Monarchs of 2018

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Monarch butterflies on a hackberry tree.


Monarch butterflies are nature’s most gentle beauties. Since 2015 I’ve biologically monitored the main 3RF campus in Foard County, Texas for all kinds of wildlife. I’ve seen monarchs pass through, but only a handful at a time.

This year was quite different. I was checking my camera traps when I came up under a hackberry tree. Immediately, I was swarmed by hundreds of monarchs. This was a first on the campus. Everywhere, I went they were all over the hackberry trees near the water, as well as the bloomed liatris (blazing star), which is a tall purple flower. There were some Queen butterflies mixed in with the monarchs as well.

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Monarchs alighting on liatris.

Hackberry trees seem to be the favorite for the monarchs and other butterflies on the campus. They never alighted on any mesquite trees and hardly on the red-berry juniper trees.

The annual migration of North America’s monarchs is a unique occurrence. They are the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration like birds do. Monarchs are having a harder time at making their yearly migration from the north to Mexico. These little beauties can travel between fifty to a hundred miles a day using air currents and thermals.

Monarch butterflies are a keystone species that once fluttered throughout the United States by the billions. They alighted from Mexico to Canada each spring on a trek that required six generations of the insect to complete. A keystone species is one which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. They maintain the structure of an ecological community and if it were removed that particular ecosystem would change drastically.

Driving this past week, I’d slow down or swerve when I could to avoid hitting the monarchs flying. I probably hurt or killed more than I would like to admit.

It is not often I love sitting in one spot on the campus because there is so much to do, see, and still explore. But I literally could’ve sat under the hackberry trees all day long watching these monarchs’ silent beauty.

To help the monarchs on their back and forth journey here are some helpful tips: always plant native milkweeds; liatris on the campus is a favorite of the monarchs and if it will survive in your climate then plant it; plant a hackberry tree or even a pecan tree; if you see monarchs flying in front of your car slow down to avoid hitting them; try to avoid using pesticides during their migration times of early spring and early fall.

Lastly, just enjoy the beauty of these magnificent butterflies.