This Wildlife Wednesday, learn about the monarch butterflys extraordinary migration, and the Canadian discovery that put them on the map.
Habitat: North America, though they are occasionally found in areas such as the Canary Islands, Hawaii, India, and Australia
Monarch butterfly trivia
- Monarch butterflies have a unique migration: every year in the fall, they migrate from the United States and Canada to Mexico, where they hibernate in the milder winter. To do this, they must travel up to 3,000 miles (more than 4,800 km). Amazingly, they do this on instinct, and know the route from birth.
- They eat only milkweed plants, so this food is vital to their survival. Even monarch eggs are hatched on milkweed plants.
- Like other butterflies, they begin as a caterpillar and then transform in chrysalides to become beautiful butterflies.
- Their distinctive pattern lets predators know to back off—monarch butterflies are poisonous. This is because the food they eat—milkweed—is also poisonous, although monarchs are somehow immune.
- The monarch butterfly’s winter grounds in Mexico were only discovered in 1975, by Dr. Fred Urquhart from the University of Toronto. His life’s studies were dedicated to determining this very thing.
- If you want to see the monarch butterfly’s great migration, one of the best places to check it out is Point Pelee National Park in Ontario. This park is made famous for being visited by the butterflies for a few days in autumn, before crossing Lake Eerie.
Why they’re threatened
Monarch butterflies are classified as near threatened. Some monarchs are threatened by a reduction in their hibernation grounds in Mexican forests, as this land is often used for agriculture or tourism. Additionally, the amount of herbicides used in the American Midwest is threatening the population of milkweed, which, of course, impacts the monarch’s population as well. Finally, climate change is disrupting their migration route by changing weather patterns.
We can help monarch butterflies by resolving to lower our individual carbon footprints and adopting eco-friendly habits in our everyday lives. Parks Canada also recommends planting a garden that attracts butterflies such as monarchs.