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Minnesota monarch monitoring and more

A branch supports a cluster of roosting monarchs at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Kelly Nail/USFWS.

A branch supports a cluster of roosting monarchs at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Kelly Nail/USFWS.

By Kelly Nail
Minnesota-Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office

The Minnesota-Wisconsin Field Office, located on the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, had a summer of incredible monarch encounters. The summer started out with restoring areas around the field office using native pollinator nectar and host plants, including species of milkweed for monarchs. Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars can eat, so milkweed is needed for there to be monarchs. The whole office joined a group of youth volunteers to get involved with planting and removing invasive species. The payoff was almost immediate, as monarch butterflies began laying their eggs on the milkweed within a week. Staff at the field office monitored and recorded monarch eggs and caterpillars throughout the season for the citizen science project, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. It was exciting to see how quickly new habitat can be used by a species!

Monarchs, from eggs to butterflies, were present throughout the rest of the summer, with an average of almost one monarch per milkweed plant. While this alone would have been exciting, there was a special treat at the end of August: monarchs formed roosting colonies on the refuge grounds for more than a week, as they prepared for their migration south to Mexico. Hundreds of monarchs formed clusters on trees during the cooler hours of the day, and nectared on nearby flowers when temperatures warmed up. Field office employees took the opportunity to net, tag and release these butterflies using tags from another citizen science project, Monarch Watch. With monarchs now arriving in Mexico for the winter, we will soon find out if any of our tagged monarchs are re-sighted at an overwintering colony.

The summer of monarchs ended with staff hosting a booth at the Minneapolis Monarch Festival. Festival goers were able to find out about not just monarchs, but other imperiled pollinators, such as the endangered rusty patched bumble bee. The booth also had supplies for participants to decorate a packet of native pollinator plant seeds, live monarchs, facepainting and pollinator trivia.

Monarchs are in trouble, declining more than 80 percent over the past 20 years. There are many ways you can help monarchs and other imperiled pollinators, including planting native habitat and contributing to citizen science projects. For more information on the monarch, and detailed information on what you can do to help, please visit our website.

Last updated: June 8, 2020