Newburg Vintage Home & Garden Store hosted two sessions in August for anyone interested in learning about monarch butterflies, and their unique life cycle and migration. On August 21, approximately 25 people attended, and heard an informative talk given by Irene Fishburn, who along with her husband Glen owns and operates Newburg Vintage Home & Garden.
In explaining how they became interested in monarchs, Irene stated, “We’ve been doing this for about 10 years. We’ve been raising and releasing monarchs ever since we saw the wintering site in California. They hang by the thousands on one tree, and they’ll be six or seven inches deep.”
Describing the monarch lifecycle, Irene shared that, “It takes about four generations for the monarchs to come up through the United States. The ones that come up from Mexico will start in March. Those are the ones that are mature enough to mate, and they’ll lay their eggs in Texas. Those will hatch and fly on north, and create another batch of eggs… and then usually when they get to Minnesota, it’s the fourth or fifth generation, and those monarchs only live two to six weeks.”
She went on, “Only the ones that hatch between the middle of August through the first of October, they’re the ones that will not be mature enough to reproduce… all they’re going to do is eat and then fly all the way back to Mexico. And they will over-winter there, and then in the spring, they’ll start to reproduce on the way back up north.”
Irene stated that the monarch migration is triggered by night time temperatures down in the 50s. She added, “They fly approximately 50 miles a day. They have logged some at 120 miles. They think that they get into the current and fly that way.” She said goldenrod is a preferred food source as monarchs fly south in the fall. The entire migration is 2,000 to 3,000 miles, depending on how far north a monarch is when the migration begins.
Milkweed is the main plant associated with monarch butterflies, and Irene said there are over 100 varieties of milkweed. Milkweed is a perennial, so it will come back year after year, as well as spreading via seeds. She gave out milkweed seeds for all attendees to sprinkle on the ground somewhere. The seeds, she explained, have to experience a hard freeze over the winter before they will germinate, so the seeds should be sprinkled on the ground (not buried) in the fall.
Monarchs face a number of challenges, and for years, the overall population has been dropping. Challenges include the loss of habitat, weather extremes, motor vehicles, disease, and natural predation. It is estimated that each year, roughly 2.2 million acres of habitat is lost to development. That equates to losing habitat roughly the size of the state of Illinois every 16 years! Irene explained that because of the declining population, Congress is considering naming the monarch as an Endangered Species.
Irene encourages anyone interested in helping to bolster the monarch population by starting a monarch “waystation,” which is essentially just a patch of their preferred flowers. A waystation should include milkweed and other nectar sources. Irene said zinnias are a favorite food source for monarchs, as are many other flower types. More details can be found at the website monarchwatch.org. Irene suggests that anyone interested in raising monarchs should keep the caterpillars and/or chrysalis (cocoon) outside or on a screened porch, so that they’ll experience natural lighting and temperature. She said this helps them develop normally.
The Fishburns have a very impressive monarch waystation in their backyard, as evidenced by the large number of monarchs they are able to raise every year. Irene said they’ve raised over 500 in one year, but this year, they are raising around 200. Irene also explained the tagging process, which allows researchers to check on the migration and life cycle of monarchs. For tagging, a small sticker is placed on the wing, and then the tagger logs the applicable information onto a website.
Irene grinned as she shared a story of the lengths she has gone to in her involvement with monarchs. She stated, “We’ve gone on vacation in Door County, and we like to go in September… my husband and I will sit on a bench on the shores of Lake Michigan, and wait for the butterflies to come to shore, and we’ll root them on, and for some of the butterflies that look really tired, we’ll pick them up and take them down to Iowa, and save them five hundred miles!”
Obviously, Irene and Glen are a monarch’s best friends, and she encourages others to be, as well. When asked why she chose to put on these informational talks, Irene replied, “Mainly because we’re new to this area, and the migration needs help. And anybody can do that.” She welcomes anyone to come visit with her about monarchs as well.