Monarchs are arriving! While colder weather and unfavorable winds this spring delayed their journey, Wisconsinites are now reporting seeing these iconic beauties.
Wisconsin is in the core breeding ground for the eastern migratory population of monarchs. The state’s milkweed feeds and produces several generations each spring and summer before a final wave gorges itself on wildflower nectar and embarks on a 1,700-mile journey to central Mexico, where they overwinter.
They begin migrating north in spring, getting as far as northern Mexico and the southern United States before laying eggs and dying.
Their offspring take up the journey, and it is mostly that generation that reaches Wisconsin and lays their eggs, starting the cycle again.
Thirty years of watching, waiting and feeding monarchs
Judy Cardin and Robert Plamann of Madison are among the many Wisconsinites who eagerly await the monarchs' arrival. The couple have converted much of their front yard to a pollinator garden, and they grow several milkweed species for monarchs.
“Bob and I have been looking for our first monarch this year, and at sunset on May 17 he spotted and photographed this weary traveler resting at Badger Prairie County Park,” said Judy.
She submitted their report and attached photo to Journey North, a citizen science program based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum whose online platform allows people to register and report observances of butterflies, birds, and other nature. On May 22, the couple saw a monarch on milkweed in their yard.
“We have been entranced with the complex life cycle of monarchs since we raised a tiny monarch caterpillar to adulthood almost 30 years ago with our 5-year-old son," Judy said. "The three of us watched the monarch fly out of our son’s second-story window with a sense of awe. I can still see it in my mind as I write this.”
Three ways to help them
The eastern population of monarch butterflies has declined by 80% over the past 20 years, and the primary cause is loss of breeding habitat in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is part of the Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative working to help reverse the decline.
Here are a few opportunities partners are offering this year to help monarchs.
> Report first arrival dates. Join Judy and Robert in helping monitor monarchs this spring by submitting details about the first monarch seen this spring or summer. Read where monarchs are arriving, register, and report to Journey North.
> Increase pollinator habitat. There are a lot of great resources specific to Wisconsin on how to add milkweed and other habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. Here are a few to check out:
> Attend training to help monitor monarchs and their habitat.
The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is recruiting volunteers to help monitor monarchs and their habitat at priority sites in southwest Wisconsin. Through a grant NRF secured from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, nearly 2,000 acres of habitat will be established on public sites to benefit pollinators including monarchs and the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee. Training information is here.