With autumn setting in the monarchs are heading south for the winter, but our work in isn’t over! Fall can be a great time to engage in monarch conservation efforts. How? Here are three ways to get involved.
1. Get an early start on next year’s habitat.
Milkweeds and many other native plants need to go through a period of cold moist stratification, or vernalization, in order to germinate. This means the seeds are dormant, or not ready to grow, until they are exposed to these cold moist conditions for an extended period of time. Planting seeds in the fall lets nature do this work for you, as it has been doing with native plants throughout history. Remember to include a diverse array of bloom times when you are choosing species to include in your seed mix! As monarchs are making their way to their overwintering sites each fall, they’re in search of abundant fall blooming plants to fuel their migration.
You can also start planning for a spring planting. In the spring, you can plant seeds or plants (plugs) or some combination. If you would rather do a spring planting, decide which species you would like to plant now, draw up a plan or design, and start searching to get an idea of where you might be able to obtain those plant materials next spring. Ensure seeds have been artificially cold stratified by the producer so that they’re ready to germinate soon after they are planted. If the producer doesn’t do that for you, here are directions to do it yourself, just make sure to allow yourself enough time to still get the seeds in the ground in the spring.
2. Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Right now is a historic opportunity to participate in a nation-wide program to connect people to pollinators and the food we get from them. The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, initiated by the White House and the National Pollinator Garden Network, is calling on everyone to create pollinator and monarch habitat in gardens, fields, balconies, natural areas or anywhere they can to hit the goal of 1 million pollinator habitat sites. The Monarch Joint Venture is submitting our Monarch Habitat Success Stories from our interactive map to contribute to the Challenge, and many of our partners are sharing their certified habitats as well. Start planting your habitat today and register it or an existing habitat with us to ‘bee’ one in a million!
Citizen science programs have been tracking monarch migration and breeding for over 20 years. The data that are continuously reported to these programs are vital to our understanding of monarch biology, ecology, and their amazing migration. It is an exciting and important way to help monarchs all year round.
During the fall, you can report peak migration and roost sightings to Journey North to help document the fall migration. You can also track the migration in real time by checking Journey North’s interactive map showing reports from others across North America. If monarchs are still moving through your area, you can tag those butterflies for Monarch Watch (eastern migratory monarchs) or the Southwest Monarch Study (southwest monarchs) to help identify migration patterns and success. If tagging butterflies or releasing any that you have captured from the wild or reared, you can sample them for the OE parasite and send those samples to Project Monarch Health to help track the natural occurrence of the parasite in breeding and migratory monarchs.
Finally, although the season may be winding down in your area, we’re very interested in data about breeding monarchs, shown by the presence of eggs and larvae on milkweed plants. Monitor milkweeds for eggs and larvae as long as there is milkweed present in your habitat (until it dies back) and report what you are seeing to the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. It is important to report whatever you are seeing, even if there are no monarch eggs and larvae on those plants!
This is an important time to take action to help monarchs. The past 20 years have shown a ~90% decline in the monarch population. During the winter of 2013-2014, monarch numbers in Mexico reached an all-time low, with an estimated 30 million butterflies, compared to nearly 1 billion monarchs in 1996-1997. Last winter the numbers increased slightly, but it will take a broad scale effort involving many different stakeholders to create, restore, and enhance habitat for monarchs and other pollinators to bring monarch and other native pollinator populations to stable levels. Visit www.plantmilkweed.org for more tips on creating habitat for monarchs.
The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the position of all Monarch Joint Venture partners.