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Monarchs Spring into Northward Migration

Mar 31, 2017


  • Migration

The long awaited monarch migration has begun! Monarchs streamed out of their overwintering grounds in Mexico en masse last week, signaling the start of spring and a new growing season of milkweed and monarchs.

Sarah Weaver, Education Program Coordinator for the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab, was in Mexico in early March, and witnessed the monarchs begin to trickle north. She says, “You could hear the rustle of monarch wings increase with the warming of the morning sunshine. As this rustle became 100's of monarchs in flight, I felt that each one carried the hope and optimism of nature to triumph through the migration.”

In the southern U.S., citizen science reports to Journey North already show signs of this incredible migration moving north; the milkweed is sprouting and people are spotting their first monarchs of the season. Have you seen your first monarch yet? Report your observations to Journey North!

“The migration’s leading edge has already reached Oklahoma, 1,000 miles north of the winter sanctuaries in Mexico,” said Elizabeth Howard, Journey North Founder, on March 30. “Meanwhile, substantial numbers still remain at the sanctuaries, so we know monarchs will be moving up from Mexico for several more weeks.”

Animated map of monarch butterfly migration sightings March 30 2017

Map courtesy of Journey North. Animation not working? View it here instead.

As the milkweed begins to grow and the monarchs enter your area, there are many opportunities to participate in monarch citizen science. “Much of what we know about monarch biology, migration, and conservation is informed by data collected by citizen scientists throughout North America”, says Karen Oberhauser, founder of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) and co-chair of the Monarch Joint Venture. Find out more about participating in the MLMP, and other monarch citizen science programs here.

This winter’s eastern monarch overwintering population estimate reported a 27% decrease from last year’s population size, as shown in the graph below. Monarchs continue to need our support more than ever, and with an all hands on deck approach to conservation, together we can help monarchs reach a sustainable population average.

2016-2017 eastern monarch butterfly population results.

Ensure that when monarchs arrive in your area, there will be abundant milkweed and nectar resources for them by planting habitat! Be sure to select a variety of flowering nectar species with different blooming times, in order to provide monarchs with energy-giving nectar all growing season long. Join a citizen science program to help us better understand the monarch migration and its conservation. Get your community involved in monarch conservation through education and advocacy, or contribute to support conservation efforts across the U.S. Find the resources you need to take action for monarchs here

“We’re excited to see the monarchs making their way north, and even more excited about the myriad of partners and individuals coming together to protect the monarch migration for generations to come” says Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture Coordinator.

With your involvement, we can help monarchs rebound this breeding season through habitat restoration, research, monitoring, and education. Get involved today.

The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Header photo taken by Laura Lukens on March 6th, 2017 at Sierra Pelon sanctuary, Mexico.